By human responsibility we mean man's accountability to God for all of his actions. The teaching of man's accountability is so general in the Bible that no Scripture citations are needed. Any one that is at all acquainted with the Bible should be able with no difficulty to find plenty of proof texts on this subject.
I. HUMAN RESPONSIBILITY AND THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD
The absolute sovereignty of God means just what Paul affirms in Eph. 1:11, where he speaks of God as one that "worketh all things after the counsel of His will." This teaches just what the Philadelphia Confession of Faith teaches when it says: "God hath decreed in Himself from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeably, all things whatsoever comes to pass." Other passages teaching the absolute sovereignty of God are as follows:
"Jehovah hath established his throne in the heavens; and his kingdom ruleth over all" (Psa. 103:19).
"Who is he that saith, and it cometh to pass, when the Lord commandeth it not? Out of the mouth of the Most High cometh there not evil and good?" (Lam. 3:37,38).
"I form the light, and create darkness; I make peace, and create evil; I am Jehovah, that doeth all these things" (Isa. 45:7).
"I am God, and there is none like me; declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done; saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure" (Isa. 46:10).
"All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; and he doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?" (Dan. 4:35).
"At that season Jesus answered and said, I thank thee 0 Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou didst hide these things from the wise and understanding, and didst reveal them unto babes" (Matt. 11:25).
"Jesus answered him, Thou couldest have no power against me, except it were given thee from above" (John 19:11).
"I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that hath mercy. For the Scripture saith unto Pharaoh, For this very purpose did I raise thee up, that I might show in thee my power, and that my name might be published abroad in all the earth. So then he hath mercy on whom he will, and whom he will he hardeneth" (Rom. 9:15-18).
See also Acts 2:2,3 and 4:27,28.
2. WHY MAN IS RESPONSIBLE.
The question is, then, how can man be responsible for his actions when all that he does has been ordained and decreed of God? This is not a new question. It is at least as old as the New Testament, and probably much older. Paul anticipated this question from his readers when he penned the wonderful ninth chapter of Romans. He said. "Thou will say then unto me, Why doth he still find fault? For who withstandeth his will." And Paul's reply was: "Nay, but, 0 man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why didst thou make me thus? Or hath not the potter a right over the clay, from the same lump to make one part a vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor." Paul's mentioning of this question and his reply show conclusively that Paul taught the absolute sovereignty of God. Indeed his preceding words clearly teach it. Paul made the reply that he did because he anticipated the question as coming from an objector. When it comes as a reverent inquiry, it deserves more detailed consideration. Paul's reply had to be brief because his time and purpose would not permit a lengthy discussion. Our time permits and our purpose demands a fuller discussion.
1. God's Decree Concerning Sin is Not Causative but Permissive, Directive, Preventive, and Determinative.
God decreed that sin should come in the world, for reasons that are fully known only to Him, but He decreed that it should come by man's own free choice. God does not compel man to sin, but He allows it. Man, and not God, is the efficient cause of sin; and for that reason man is responsible.
Before passing it needs to be remarked that no objections can be brought against the statement that God decreed that sin should come into the world that cannot be brought against God's actual permission of sin, unless the objector takes the position that God was powerless to prevent the entrance of sin. This would be a denial of God's omnipotence and sovereignty, and would render the objector unworthy of consideration here. God's omnipotence and sovereignty teaches us that whatever God permits He permits because He wills to do so. And since God is immutable, His will has ever been the same. What He wills at any time He has willed from all eternity. Therefore, His will equals His purpose and His purpose equals His decree.
2. The Law of God and Not His Decree Fixes Man's Duty and Responsibility.
The law of God is man's guide and standard. This is God's revealed will. God's decree is His secret will. Man has nothing to do with this except to know and acknowledge the facts concerning it. "The secret things belong unto Jehovah, our God; but things that are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law" (Deut. 29:29).
3. The Motive Back of Man's Sinning Makes Him Responsible.
Why does man sin? Is it ever because he wants to do the will of God? Nay, never so. Why did men crucify Christ? Was it because they believed that God had sent Him to die as a sin-bearer? No. It was because they hated Him. They crucified Him through wicked motives. It is thus that man always sins. Sin proceeds from man's love of darkness (John 3:19).
II. HUMAN RESPONSIBILITY AND MAN'S SPIRITUAL INABILITY
Another question concerning man's responsibility is, How can man be responsible for not fully obeying the law of God and for not receiving the gospel when it is heard when he is unable by nature to do either of these? For proof of man's spiritual inability, see chapters on Sin and Conversion.
The answer to this question is that man can be responsible for what he is unable to do only on the supposition that he is to blame for his inability. And it is a fact that man is to blame for his spiritual inability. It is not that he individually, by his own personal act, originated the inability, for he was born with it. But every man sinned in Adam, and thus originated his spiritual inability. That every man sinned in Adam is the true teaching of Rom. 5:12- "Therefore, as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin; and so death passed unto all men, for that ALL SINNED." "Sinned" in the Greek is aorist tense, which expresses pointed past action. The passage makes it refer to the participation of all men in the sin of Adam.
But how did we participate in the sin of Adam when we were not born when he sinned? We think we cannot do better than give the following words of A. H. Strong in reply:
"God imputes the sin of Adam immediately to all his posterity, in virtue of that organic unity of mankind by which the whole race at the time of Adam's transgression existed, not individually, but seminally, in him as its head. The total life of humanity was then in Adam; the race as yet had its being only in him. Its essence was not yet individualized; its forces were not yet distributed; the powers which now exist in separate men were then unified and localized in Adam; Adam's will was yet the will of the species. In Adam's free act, the will of the race revolted from God and the nature of the race corrupted itself. The nature which we now possess is the same nature that corrupted itself in Adam- not the same in kind merely, but the same as flowing to us continuously from him. Adam's sin is imputed to us immediately, therefore, not as something foreign to us, but because it is ours--we and all other men having existed as one moral person, or one moral whole, in him, and as the result of that transgression, possessing a nature destitute of love to God and prone to evil" (Systematic Theology, p. 328).
It needs to be emphasized that man is responsible only so far as he knows, or has within his reach the knowledge of, what is right. The heathen is responsible to recognize God because, and only because, "that which is known of God is manifest in them; for God manifested it unto them. For the invisible things of him since the creation of the world are clearly seen, being perceived through the things that are made, even his everlasting power and divinity; that they may be without excuse" (Rom. 1:19,20). As to acts of outward conduct, the heathen is responsible only for the violation of such principles of righteousness as his own conscience recognizes. "As many as have sinned without the law shall also perish without the law," i. e., those to whom the written law of God has not been made known shall perish, but they shall not perish through the condemnation of the written law. How then will they be judged? The verses which follow the above quotation show that they will be judged by their own standard of righteousness; they will be charged with no transgressions except those against their own conscience. See Rom. 2:12-15.
From the above it is evident that the heathen will not be charged with the sin of unbelief or rejection of the gospel; yet they shall perish. This shows that it is sin in general that condemns primarily. Rejection of the gospel does not bring condemnation to man; it only manifests it and increases the penalty that shall be inflicted because of it.
The fact that human responsibility is dependent on knowledge explains why dying infants and native imbeciles will be saved. They are mentally blind to the principles of righteousness, and, therefore, are not responsible. This is the kind of blindness that the Pharisees thought Jesus meant in John 9:39. And Jesus perceiving the thought of their hearts, said unto them: "If ye were blind (in the sense you have in mind), ye would have no sin" (John 9:41). There are but three kinds of blindness: physical blindness, mental blindness, and spiritual blindness. Certainly the Pharisees did not suppose that Jesus meant they were physically blind. And certainly Christ did not mean in His reply to say that they were not spiritually blind. See John 12:37-40; 2 Cor. 4:3,4. He could have meant but one thing, and that is that if they were mentally blind, they would have no sin. Infants and imbeciles are mentally blind, as already stated, and are, therefore, not responsible for their conduct. It is for this reason that we believe they will be saved through the blood of Christ without the exercise of faith in the body. However, since they have a sinful nature, we must believe that it will be necessary for them to be regenerated and thus brought to faith in Christ. The Bible makes it clear that this is necessary before one is fit for the presence of God. But it does not tell us when it will take place with reference to infants and imbeciles. We are of the opinion that it will take place at the time of the separation of the spirit from the body in the hour of death. See also Deut. 1:39 as to personal responsibility of infants.