Synopsis Purioris Theologiae:

20 At this point we should see whether sins, too, fall under divine providence. We assert that it is wrong to say God provides sins in the sense that to provide means to attend and to care for. But we do not doubt that it may, and indeed should be said that God exercises providence concerning sins. For He foresees sins in advance, and wills to permit them; and as they are seen beforehand, He destines them to some universal or particular good, whether for a display of his mercy or justice, or for some other good. And so it is rightly said that He exercises providence regarding them, since He disposes to do well regarding them. But if one considers only that which is real in sin and ‘positive,’ as they say, what others call ‘the matter’ of sin, namely, as an entity or as an action, in this sense sins can be said even to be provided by God, but only in a relative sense and not in itself. That is because the formal structure of sin exists in the absence of being and of good, in a certain deformity and disorderliness, which does not come from God and so cannot have been provided for by Him.

21 Here is a place for a distinction in the ways God handles providence when He implements it—it is either effective, or permitting. The first is the one whereby God works effectually, and in all things generally and individually perfects his work (namely all things both general and specific in nature), not only the essential good—the substances, motions, actions and completions of things—but also the moral good, such as all civic and spiritual virtues. Because, as the highest good, He is also the author and source of all good.

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Having considered Baron’s views in some detail, we are better prepared to reflect upon where his teachings lay on the map of theological opinions current in his day. Some preliminary comments are in order regarding the terms employed to properly situate the doctrine of Baron and his contemporaries.

As intimated in the introduction to this essay, I believe that meaningful assessment of Baron’s doctrine and placement of the same in relation to his contemporaries has, in the past, been crippled by over-reliance on the labels ‘Calvinist’ and ‘Arminian’ to name the theologies of seventeenth-century Scottish divines. The problems inherent to the use of these terms are several. Taken on its own the term ‘Calvinist’ perpetuates the myth that Reformed theology, in Scotland or elsewhere, was a monolithic reality which looked to Calvin’s teaching as the sole or principal standard of orthodoxy. That myth, in turn, tends to underwrite charges against later Reformed thinkers for departing from the standard on this or that matter; thus narratives pitting the ‘Calvinists’, or at least some of them, against Calvin are constructed–typically towards the end of promoting some present day doctrinal antidote to everything that went wrong in the Reformed theological tradition–while the fact that strict conformity to Calvin’s doctrine was no Reformed thinker’s goal is overlooked.85

Coupled with its would-be antonym ‘Arminian’, the label ‘Calvinist’ assumes other problems. If taken to denote adherence to Calvin’s or Arminius’s precise teachings, these terms prove to be rather too restrictive to capture the diversity of orthodox, or even heterodox, views that existed in Reformed settings on any given theological subject. More often, of course, the terms are used as something like sloppy synonyms for ‘Reformed’ and ‘Remonstrant’, but then they foster the anachronistic tendency to project later, more developed theological concepts and notions on to Calvin and Arminius respectively. Indeed, the ‘looser’ the labels ‘Calvinist’ and ‘Arminian’ become, the more susceptible Calvin and Arminius become to misrepresentation.

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Geerhardus Vos (1862-1949) on Infra- and Supralapsarianism

   Posted by: CalvinandCalvinism   in God who Covenants


65. Indicate beforehand what is not at issue in the difference between the two parties.

a) The question in the first place is not whether there is a temporal sequence in God’s decrees. With Scripture everyone Reformed confesses the absolute eternity of God’s being. It is an eternity elevated above all temporal duration, in which a thousand years are as yesterday when it has passed and as a watch in the night (Psa 90 :4). In this eternity everything is present that is hidden in the depths of the divine mind or has ever passed over from it into time as a work of His creative omnipotence. What will happen at the consummation of the ages is in that respect not sooner than that which took place at the dawn of creation. Every conception as if the differing parts of God’s decree arise by stages of His observation must be rejected as incompatible with this eternity. That there would have first been a decree of creation, then of the fall, and then of predestination, or that these parts would have followed one another in reverse temporal order-both are in conflict with Scripture. It may be impossible for our thinking, bound by time, to grasp this eternity of divine life, nevertheless we must acknowledge it and may maintain nothing that is in conflict with it. To express it as briefly as possible: There are in God not many decrees, but it is one, single, completely present decree.

As a matter of fact, all this is already contained in the names of supra- and infralapsarianism. If it was a matter of a temporal order it should have been called ante- and postlapsarianism. The question would then have to be, “Do you believe in predestination before or after the decree of the fall?” Now, however, not a time but a space image has been chosen, apparently to avoid every trace of a temporal conception in conflict wi th God’s eternity.

b) Nor is the question whether creation and the fall of man fall under the decree of God. With respect to creation, nobody doubts that. But whoever would deny that for the fall would become un-Reformed instead of infralapsarian since he would abandon one of most momentous turning points in world history, on which the work of redemption is entirely dependent and with that the course of well nigh all things, to chance. Almost all the Reformed confess unanimously with Calvin, “Man falls according to God’s decree, but he falls by his own guilt.” In His decree God has not only known of and reckoned with the fall, but since all things must have their certainty and fixity in His counsel, if we do not wish to posit a second ground of things beside God, then it also cannot be otherwise for the fearful fact of sin. That, too, must receive its certainty from God’s decree. However great and however insurmountable the difficulties that follow closely on this position, still nothing may diminish it. Whoever begins to doubt here stands on the edge of a bottomless dualism. Only in the beginning, when theological perception was not entirely clear, could one remove the fall from the absolute decree of God. Augustine did this, who thought that for the events following the fall, God’s foreknowledge rested on His decree while, conversely, for the fall the decree was dependent on a foreseeing. This and the other point {the apostasy of the saints} were the two weak points in Augustine’s soteriology. Among truly Reformed theologians, only a few spoke of a foreseeing. Walaeus (Leiden Synopsis, xxiv, 23) says, “God, foreseeing with the infinite light of His knowledge how it would happen that man created after His image stood, together with his entire posterity, to misuse his free will, has deemed that it better accorded with His omnipotent goodness to show beneficence to the wicked, rather than not to allow there would be evil, as Augustine rightly reminds us.”

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Once more, A debt may be charged upon the principal debtor, after a Surety’s satisfying the obligation, in case the Surety’s name was not at first in the same obligation, but is admitted afterward by voluntary contract, covenant, and consent. For, there the covenant is the only determining rule of all matters concerning the discharge. Why are they not sacrificed and glorified immediately after their coming into the world (these being effects of the death of Christ) but because the covenant provides otherwise.

In the name of Jesus Christ (as as surety) had been originally or at first in Adam’s obligation, then more might have been said for an immediate discharge upon his payment of our debt, and suffering death, but this was not the case, for if it had, then his suffering death had been necessary and unavoidable, though no New Testament had ever been made, yea, the making of it had been unnecessary, vain and useless.

Whereas it was extremely necessary, there could have been no transferring of our guilt to him, without it, and his submitting to death was by voluntary contract, Joh. 10: 17,18. And his name not being at first in our bond, hence, his payment was a refusable transaction.

It was by an act of free grace that he was admitted to undertake for us, and his payment accepted in our stead, and so though he paid the idem, the same that we did owe, yet there was nothing contrary to justice or equity, if the Father added terms than before, and so no need that we should be ipso facto discharged. And the law passes sentence not only upon sinful actions, but upon the persons for them, Gen. 2: 17, Gal. 3:22. And, therefore, no justification, till delivered out of this state, which is at union with Jesus Christ and faith.

Samuel Petto, The Difference Between the Old and New Covenant Stated and Explained (London: Printed for Eliz. Calvert, at the Sign of the Black Spred-Eagle at the West end of St. Pauls, 1674), 282- 284. [Some minor reformatting; italics original; some spelling modernized; and underlining mine.]

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Geerhardus Vos (1862-1949) on God’s Permissive Decree

   Posted by: CalvinandCalvinism   in Divine Permission of Sin


16. How does one designate God’s decree as it functions with respect to sin?

A permissive decree (decretum permissivum). This term has become accepted in Reformed dogmatics and is even found in most confessions. Our own [Belgic] Confession, on the doctrine of providence (Article 13), says, "[A]ll our enemies cannot harm us without His permission and will."

Here and there objection is made to this distinction. Beza states it is not difficult to show that it is completely misunderstood by some, in a way that removes the devils and evil men from God’s control except that He keeps their actions and the consequences of their actions within certain limits. Nevertheless, Beza also wishes to see the terms decernius and permissivum (decreeing and permitting will) maintained, provided that they are explained correctly.

Danaeus speaks more dismissively: "From this it follows that that sophistical distinction that one is accustomed to make between God’s permission and His decree ought to be abandoned, because what happens by God’s permission happens with His will and consequently by virtue of His decree."

a) First, it should be observed that by permissive decree the Lutherans understand something entirely negative. By it they mean that God does not decree to prevent or hinder sin by a positive act. Thus, sin itself is fully present in God’s decree as sure and certain. Concerning it God has nothing more to decide. His permissive decreeing, taken strictly, means to say that He does not decree rather than that He certainly decrees not, namely, to counter sin. This, of course, is a wrong and inadequate view. It teaches that sin has its reality and certainty from man. The former is true, as we have seen; the latter cannot be conceded. For, as for all things, so also for sin, certainty must lie in the decree of God. A permissive decree cannot be a bare budding in our spirit.

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