Robert L. Dabney (1820-1898) on the Ordering of the Decrees

   Posted by: CalvinandCalvinism   in God who Ordains

Supralapsarian Scheme.

The first suppose that in a rational mind, that which is ultimate as end, is first in design; and that, in the process of planning, the mind passes from the end to the means, traveling as it were backwards. Hence,God first designed His own glory by the salvation of a definite number of men conceived as yet only as in posse, and the reprobation of another definite number; that then He purposed their creation, then the permission of their fall, and then the other parts of the plan of redemption for the elect. I do not mean to represent that they impute to God an actual succession of time as to the rise of the parts of the decree in His eternal mind, but that these divines represent God as planning man’s creation and fall, as a means for carrying out His predestination, instead of planning his election as a means for repairing his fall.

Sublapsarian Scheme. The Sublapsarian assigns the opposite order; that God determined to create man in His own image, to place him under a covenant of works, to permit his fall, and with reference to the fallen and guilty state thus produced, to elect in sovereign mercy some to be saved, passing by the rest in righteous judgment upon their sins, and that He further decreed to send Jesus Christ to redeem the elect. This milder scheme the Supralapsarians assert to be attended with the vice of the Arminian, in making the decree conditional; in that God’s decree of predestination is made dependent on man’s use of his free will under the covenant of works. They also assert that their scheme is the symmetrical one, in that it assigns the rational order which exists between ultimate end and intermediate means. Both Erroneous.

In my opinion this is a question which never ought to have been raised. Both schemes are illogical and contradictory to the true state of facts. But the Sublapsarian is far more Scriptural in its tendencies, and its general spirit far more honorable to God. The Supralapsarian, under a pretense of greater symmetry, is in reality the more illogical of the two, and misrepresents the divine character and the facts of Scripture in a repulsive manner. The view from which it starts, that the ultimate end must be first in design, and then the intermediate means, is of force only with reference to a finite mind. God’s decree has no succession; and to Him no successive order of parts; because it is a contemporaneous unit, comprehended altogether, by one infinite intuition. In this thing, the statements of both parties are untrue to God’s thought. The true statement of the matter is, that in this co-etaneous, unit plan, one part of the plan is devised by God with reference to a state of facts which He intended to result from another part of the plan; but all parts equally present, and all equally primary to His mind. As to the decree to create man, to permit his fall, to elect some to life; neither part preceded any other part with God. But His purpose to elect had reference to a state of facts which was to result from His purpose to create, and permit the fall. It does not seem to me that the Sublapsarian scheme makes the decree conditional. True, one result decreed is dependent on another result decreed; but this is totally another thing. No scheme can avoid this, not even the Supralapsarian, unless it does away with all agency except God’s, and makes Him the direct author of sin.

Objections To the Supralapsarian. But we object more particularly to the Supralapsarian scheme.

(a) That it is erroneous in representing God as having before His mind, as the objects of predestination, men conceived in posse only; and in making creation a means of their salvation or damnation. Whereas, an object must be conceived as existing, in order to have its destiny given to it. And creation can with no propriety be called a means for effectuating a decree of predestination as to creatures. It is rather a prerequisite of such decree.

(b.) It contradicts Scripture, which teaches us that God chose His elect “out of the world,” John 15:19, and out of the “same lump” with the vessels of dishonor (Rom. 9:21). They were then regarded as being, along with the non–elect, in the common state of sin and misery.

(c.) Our election is in Christ our Redeemer (Eph. 1:4; 3:11), which clearly shows that we are conceived as being fallen, and in need of a Redeemer, in this act. And, moreover, our election is an election to the exercise of saving graces to be wrought in us by Christ (1 Pet. 1:2; 2 Thess. 2:13). (d.) Election is declared to be an act of mercy (Rom. 9:15 16, 11:5, 6), and preterition is an act of justice (Rom. 9:22). Now as mercy and goodness simply an apprehension of guilt and misery in their object, so justice implies ill-desert. This shows that man is predestined as fallen; and is not permitted to fall because predestined. I will conclude this part, by repeating the language of Turrettin, Loc. 4, Qu. 18, 5.

1. “By this hypothesis, the first act of God’s will towards some of His creatures is conceived to be an act of hatred, in so far as He willed to demonstrate His righteousness in their damnation, and indeed before they were considered as in sin, and consequently before they were deserving of hatred; nay, while they were conceived as still innocent, and so rather the objects of love. This does not seem compatible with God’s ineffable goodness.

2. “It is likewise harsh that, according to this scheme, God is supposed to have imparted to them far the greatest effects of love, out of a principle of hatred, in that He determines to create them in a state of integrity to this end, that He may illustrate His righteousness in their damnation. This seems to express Him neither as supremely good nor as
supremely wise and just.

3. “It is erroneously supposed that God exercised an act of mercy and justice towards His creatures in His foreordination of their salvation and destruction, in that they are conceived as neither wretched, nor even existing as yet. But since those virtues (mercy and justice) are relative, they pre-suppose their object, do not make it.

4. “It is also asserted without warrant, that creation and the fall are means of election and reprobation, since they are antecedent to them: else sin would be on account of damnation, whereas damnation is on account of sin; and God would be said to have created men that He might destroy them.”

Dabney, Lectures in Systematic Theology, 232-234.

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