Monday, October 12, 2015

An Introduction To The Dispute

The main question in dispute is this: what are the decrees of God concerning the everlasting condition of men, and how are they ordered? There are two sides to this debate.
One side disavows a decree altogether, asserting that God’s casting men off forever is grounded upon the foresight of man’s continuance in sin and unbelief, which is a fate avoidable by grace. This side consequently infers no man’s damnations necessarily.
The other affirms an absolute and pre-redemptive decree which proceeded from the good pleasure of God and without any consideration of men’s final impenitence and unbelief. By this decree God casts men off from grace and glory and shuts the far greater part (even those called by the preaching of the gospel to repentance and salvation) under invincible and unavoidable sin and damnation.
This group is divided. Some see God as looking out from above the fall and say that before there was sin He decreed of His good pleasure to manifest His sovereignty and justice in the eternal damnation of the great part of mankind. To this end He decreed the means of unavoidable sin and impenitency. This is held by Calvin, Beza, Zanchius, Piscator, Gomarus, and some of our own countrymen.
The rest of the group, thinking to avoid the great inconvenience of supralapsarianism, fall down a little lower and have God looking at man lying fallen and under the guilt of original sin, and there decreeing the great number of them to the torment of hell forever for the declaration of His justice. This way went the Synod.
Admittedly the difference between these two isn’t much, and even in their own account it’s too small a disagreement to cause a breach. As they said at the Hague Conference and Synod, “As concerning the diversity of opinions on the this argument over whether God looked at man in this decree as not yet created or as created and fallen—this doesn’t belong to essential Christian doctrine, so we bear with one another in equity.]
After this, at Dort, they permitted Gomarus to set down his judgment in the upper way, but the delegates from Southern Holland were very indifferent to it, saying, “An Deus in eligendo confideraverit homines ut lapsos, an etiam ut nondum lapsos, existimant non esse neccessarium ut definiatur, riodo statuatur Dum in eligendo considerasse homines in pari statu.” [Whether God considered men as fallen or else as unfallen when choosing we think it is not necessary to be determined, for in both cases God considers all men in a like state.] Maccovis, a professor of Divinity at Frankfurt, a violent and stiff maintainer of the most unsavoury speeches which have been uttered in this controversy, undertook in that very synod to make good against his fellow delegate Lubbert by saying, “Velle peccata ordinare homines ad peccatum qua peccatum & neutiquam velle ut omnes homines salventur etc.” He insisted that God willed sin, ordained men to sin, did not desire that all men should be saved, and that unless these things were stiffly held and maintained everyone would become Remonstrants. This man was not only not censured, but publically declared in the Synod to be pure and orthodox. He was dignified only with a friendly admonition to take heed lest he give offense to tender ears that were not yet capable of hearing such mysteries.
So from these instances it appears that they can easily bear one with another in this difference. And to tell the truth there’s no reason why they should quarrel about these circumstances, seeing as they’re in agreement on the substance. For both contend that the moving cause of reprobation is the will of God, not the sin of man, original or actual, and both agree that the final impenitency and damnation of reprobates is necessary and unavoidable by divine decree.
It is these two points which are the maxima gravamina [the principal grievances] over which the debate hinges on, and these opinions I both question and dislike.

The Response

In the controversy over election and preterition the Remonstrants not only have the contra-Remonstrants for their opponents, but also the Church of England which holds the middle way, as the learned Bishop of Norwich has plainly shown. To join with the Remonstrants is therefore to forsake the doctrine of Church of England as much as it is to forsake Beza, Zanchius, or Piscator. But perhaps unlike  the contra-Remonstrants, the main issue between us is not, “What are the decrees of God concerning the final conditions of men,” but rather “What are the decrees of God concerning the different preparations of grace, whereby some are guided infallibly into salvation and others are permitted through their own corruption or voluntary transgression to fall into damnation?”
Before going on it must be said that neither the Remonstrants nor the Church of England affirms:
1.       That reprobation is an absolute and forceful decree by which the non-elect are cast off from all grace. It is evident the non-elect Angels and many millions of men have had a great measure of grace bestowed on them.
2.       That reprobation is a denial of sufficient grace. It is only a denial of such special grace as God knows would infallibly bring them to glory. Preterition does not shut any man up under a necessity of sinning and being damned, but it instead permits them to freely to run into damnable sins, and through their voluntary impenitency to incur eternal damnation. Non cursus ruentium, nec malignitatem iniquorum neque cupiditates peccantium pradestinatio Dei aut excitavit aut suasit, aut impulit etc. Nemini Deuis correctionis adimit viam, nec quenquam boni possibilitate despoliat. [The sinner is not predestined to their wicked lusts, as if God raised them up or pushed them into it. He corrects, He does not deprive men of the good road.]
3.       That absolute predestination or reprobation excludes the eternal intuition of faith and perseverance in the elect. Nor is a consideration of good or bad acts foreseen in men denied.
4.       That there is an absolute decree adjudging men to the torments of hell torments without consideration of sin.
Likewise both sides agree that Gods casting men off forever is grounded on the foresight of their final continuance in sin. But unlike the Remonstrants, we’d say that the final continuance of Peter’s faith was not a cause, condition, or foreseen motive which compelled God to elect him. His faith was instead produced by his election. The foreseen final continuance of Judas in sin and infidelity on the other hand is not owing to a determination of the Divine will to pass him by—unlike the decree to elect singular persons to eternal life—for in his case God foresaw the obstinacy of his own will. So through no violent decree He let Judas die in his voluntary sin, and for this impenitency merit eternal torment. God mercifully elects some to salvation, and leaves others to their own faults to plunge themselves into eternal damnation.
Yet God did eternally decree to glorify Himself in the salvation of some and the damnation of others—of this events plainly demonstrate.  But for those in whose salvation He decreed to glorify His mercy He works in them the means of their salvation, the faith, repentance, perseverance in faith and in godliness, by an influx of grace into their souls. It is powerful, but not violent, a most sweet and yet most infallible guidance of their wills, in and over which God has a more predominant power than they do.
As for those in damnation, God glorifies His sovereignty and justice not by an influx of malice into their souls, nor by unavoidable wresting of their wills into any sin, but instead by leaving their sinful desires to their defective wills, which lacking the special grace and effectual guidance of predestination never fail to run them willingly into their own damnation. The means by which men are brought into salvation are real effects of election wrought by the Holy Spirit, just as light and heat come from the sun. In contrast the means whereby men are carried to their damnation grow from themselves, as coldness and darkness proceed from space.
Those who are passed by in the eternal decree of God are not by any force of the decree left without the benefit which the Scriptures promises upon condition of repentance, no more so than those who God has elected are by virtue of that decree freed from the punishment which supposing their impenitency might light upon them. The absolute eternal decrees of election and reprobation stand alongside the revealed evangelical decree. If Cain repented and lived well he would receive pardon and salvation. If Peter didn’t repent but instead persevered in his sin, he would have been damned. And further (not to determine whether sufficient grace is offered to every particular person in the world or not) we may firmly assert that the decree of electing some to grace and glory and the passing by and rejecting of others is not a good argument for proving that the non-elected are left without sufficient means of salvation.
Adam was not predestined to stand in the state of his innocence, and yet he was not thereby excluded or bereft of sufficient means of remaining in it. From the decree of reprobation it well follows that Judas is reprobated; but all this means is that God has not given him sufficient means to escape damnation given the hindrance of his own wicked heart.

Lapsarianism Rebuked

The ordering these eternal decrees is unknown to the ancients, and has never met with good success. Nevertheless, those who do order them or place predestination and reprobation before the fall are not few for number, nor are a new sect. Scotus, a whole army of his followers, the greater number of late School Divines, and Suarez in particular says, “Probabiliorem existimo commune sententiam Theologorum asserentium electionem hominum predestinatorum ante cessisse permissionem originalis peccati.” [I think it most probable, and the general opinion of theologians, to assert that men were elected before they yielded to original sin.] As for Calvin, he never troubled himself with these imaginary priorities in the eternal immanent operations of God, all he aimed to do was to prove that the foreseen fall could not be the motive to God for the basis of election or reprobation. But for the intuition or Divine consideration of all mankind in statu lapso [in a fallen state], Calvin in plain terms proclaims it, “Postquam Paulus Deum ex Perdita massa eligere & reprobare quos illi visum est, docuit, quare & quomodo id fiat adeo non expedit, ut potius expavescens, etc.” [As Paul says, God selected how and exactly in what way from the some would be taken from the same lump for rejection, in order that the rest should be full of godly fear.]
This presupposition of sin considered in persons whether elected or not elected, whether to be saved or to be damned, may be most convenient for helping our understanding of this deep mystery, but if anyone thinks of the eternal volitions or intuitions of God as having any real priority, he deceives himself, and troubles others with his vain jangling. Utilitas distinguendi hac instantia rationis, non est, un ille modus intelligendi retineatur, sed ut viam aperiat veritati, que aperta relinquatur. [It is advantageous to distinguish between that which exists from reasoning about things which by no means exists; particularly in matters where the truth has not been revealed or plainly set forth.]
The synod of Dort enjoined men to set down their particular judgments concerning predestination and reprobation and therefore they had no reason to forbid any man to set down plainly his own opinion. And since the Divine understanding does not consider or behold this after that, but all together in one intent from eternity, there is no cause why men should stiffly contend about these priorities and posteriorities which are human imaginations or intellectus nostril fictions [understanding of fictions] as some truly term them.
Maccovius was upon a by occasion brought before the Synod, and the business between him and Lubbertus was committed to the examination of some few Delegates, according to whose report he was dismissed. To the objection of ordaining men to sin his answer was, “God did not ordain any man to sin efficiendo [effectually] but permittendo [permissively]. For his denying of a will in God for the saving of all men he understood it of the absolute effectual operative will, not of the conditional and approbative will of God.
They both conceded that the divine understanding could not but eternally foresee the original and actual sin which should finally cleave to every particular man who should afterword be born into this world, but for all this they denied that the moving causes whereby God distinguished men into Elect and non-elect was the foreseen faith of some, and the foreseen infidelity and impenitency of others. The state of men under sin was common to all, the mercy of God in effectually freeing from my sin was due to none.

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