John Davenant on ‘Conditional Decree’

   Posted by: CalvinandCalvinism   in Conditional Decree/Conditional Will



1) Where he evidently [Dr. Overall] acknowledges an eternal, secret, absolute Decree, predestinating particular persons unto eternal life, without all dependency upon their foreseen faith or perseverance; though there withal he conjoin an open, revealed and Evangelical Decree of bring men into the possession of eternal life, by the way and upon the condition of their faith, repentance and perseverance.  John Davenant, Animadversions Written By the Right Reverend Father in God, John, Lord Bishop of Sarisbury, upon a Treatise intitled “God’s love to Mankind,” (London: Printed for Iohn Partridge, 1641), 9-10.  [Some spelling modernized.]

2) Unto all these and the like inferences and opinions we answer briefly three things. First, That Predestination is absolute not because it intends the bring of any man unto eternal life without performing the conditions which God in his most gracious decree of Election doth as absolutely and certainly ordain men unto saving grace as unto everlasting glory. Secondly, That in the Divine Predestination there is always included a prescience of the faith and perseverance of all such as are elected: yet so, that this prescience is not the antecedent motive unto their Election, but this foreseen faith and perseverance is a consequent fruit or effect of the Divine Election. Lastly. That there is a decree conditional established by God concerning man’s salvation, namely, That if any man repent, believe and persevere, he shall most certainly be saved. But we say it is an abuse of the Word, to call this the decree of God’s Election or Predestination. For the truth of this decree may stand good and firm though no man living should believe or attain unto eternal life. But the Divine predestination or Election is such a decree as infallibly in some men produces faith, and brings unto eternal life a certain number of persons known only unto God himself.  John Davenant, Animadversions Written By the Right Reverend Father in God, John, Lord Bishop of Sarisbury, upon a Treatise intitled “God’s love to Mankind,” (London: Printed for Iohn Partridge, 1641), 13. [Some spelling modernized.]

3) 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 promise upon condition of repentance, no more than those whom God has eternally elected, are, by virtue of that decree, freed from the punishment which supposing their impenitency must light upon them. Notwithstanding the absolute eternal decrees of Election and Reprobation, the revealed Evangelical Decrees stand in their full force. If Cain repent and live well, he shall be pardoned and saved: if Peter repent not, and persevere in his sin, he shall be damned.   John Davenant, Animadversions Written By the Right Reverend Father in God, John, Lord Bishop of Sarisbury, upon a Treatise intitled “God’s love to Mankind,” (London: Printed for Iohn Partridge, 1641), 24. [Some spelling modernized.]

4) Conditional decrees of Salvation and Damnation have been published in the Gospel, and are acknowledged by all Divines: but conditional Decrees of eternal Predestination and Preterition are not found in Scripture, nor allowed of by the Church of England. Every man knows where to find these conditional decrees, “If any man believe and repent, he shall be saved;” “If any man continue in infidelity and impenitency, he shall be damned:” But it will be hard for any Remonstrant to show these other, “If any man believe, he shall be predestinated;” “If any man believe not, he shall not be predestinated.”  Faith is a temporal effect produced in those which were elected from eternity, not foreseen condition drawing after it God’s eternal Election.  John Davenant, Animadversions Written By the Right Reverend Father in God, John, Lord Bishop of Sarisbury, upon a Treatise intitled “God’s love to Mankind,” (London: Printed for Iohn Partridge, 1641), 31. [Some spelling modernized.]

5) For the secret Decree of absolute Election and Non-election, or (in other terms) of absolute Predestination and absolute negative Reprobation, they are to be distinguished from the revealed and published decrees of the Salvation of all singular persons upon condition of their faith, repentance and perseverance, and damnation of all singular persons, if they continue in unbelief and impenitency. We acknowledge these later to be the eternal and immutable decrees of God, as well as the former; and no man attains salvation, or incurs damnation, but according to these: but we say the Remonstrants err in confounding these conditional decrees, which make no distinction betwixt man and man, with the absolute decrees of Election and Predestination, which are distinguishing decrees.   John Davenant, Animadversions Written By the Right Reverend Father in God, John, Lord Bishop of Sarisbury, upon a Treatise intitled “God’s love to Mankind,” (London: Printed for Iohn Partridge, 1641), 108. [Some spelling modernized.]

6) His [Davenant’s opponent] sixth Testimony out of Scripture, is taken from certain conditional propositions, which promise God’s favor and eternal life unto men upon conditions; namely “if they seek him,” “If they do well,” “If they believe,” “If they persevere,” &c., and which suspend his wrath and utter desertion upon their sinning and Forsaking of God. Upon these premises whereas we expressed this condition, “Therefore in God there is no eternal decree of absolute Predestination and absolute non-predestination, Preterition or negative Reprobation,” he started aside from the question, and infers, “That God forsakes or rejects from salvation no man in time and in deed till he” have first in time and deed “cast off God.” Upon the truth of which conclusion, we shall not much stand with him.

But to answer more clearly to the point in hand; We must first consider that mere or purely conditional decrees or conditional volitions agree not with the perfection of the Divine nature. Volitiones pure conditionales sunt aliena a’ sapientia & prudential Dei. Volumtas Dei conditoinata dici potest, non quia actu feratur in objectum sub conditione, sed quia ex illa, voluntate qua praesens est alia oriretur, si condito ia objecto poneretur.  These speeches therefore above-cited out of Scripture do not imply a Conditional will in God suspended for any moment of time, and then post purificatam conditionem, becoming an absolute and Effectual will, as the like conditional propositions do in us, who have neither knowledge whether the condition will be certainly performed or no, nor yet power in ourselves to work the condition whereupon the future act of our will was suspended. But in God, who knows eternally what every man will do or not do, and who in himself has an absolute power and freedom to make men do any good whereunto he makes a promise of reward, and do leave them to their own defective Free-will in doing those things for which he has threatened desertion and destruction, these conditional decrees or volitions must be far otherwise conceived; namely, not purely but mixtly conditionalia, that is, grounded in some absolute revealed decree of God to the performance whereof he has tied himself. For example; It is an absolute decree of the Divine will published in the Gospel, “That whosoever repenteth, believeth, persevereth, shall be saved:” From hence is derived that mixed conditional decree, “If Cain, if Judas, if any other repent and believe, they shall be saved. Now such mixed conditional decrees carry no contradiction to the absolute decrees of Election and Non-election or Reprobation. For who sees not that these two propositions may well stand together, “I will that if Judas repent and believe he shall have remission and salvation;” “I will not give unto Judas the gift of repentance, of faith, and of eternal life”?  The former conditional proposition contains all which this Author can truly collect from the testimonies alleged; and the latter does as truly infer that absolute Reprobation for which we contend. For the  absolute decree of God resolving not to give faith, repentance, and eternal life unto Judas, that is which we understand by the word Reprobation: is this is never abrogated by any conditional promise founded in any universal absolute decree of God.  John Davenant, Animadversions Written By the Right Reverend Father in God, John, Lord Bishop of Sarisbury, upon a Treatise intitled “God’s love to Mankind,” (London: Printed for Iohn Partridge, 1641), 176-177. [Some spelling modernized.]

7) For the positive act [of predamnation to condemnation], which this Author describes to be a “pre-ordination unto hell-torments;” those who comprise them both under this one word Reprobation, do notwithstanding make this act or decree respective unto sin, as we have already shown. As for those of our Church in this controversy, whether Predestination and Non-predestination be grounded upon the prime absolute will of God, or upon his prescience of good and bad acts to be performed by men, they do and must understand by the word Reprobation, not the decree of damnation of particular persons, but only the absolute decree of not-preparing for them that effectual grace qua certisime liberarentur, and of leaving them to such means of grace under which by their own default infallibiliter ruun ad interitum voluntariam. Thus our English Divines in their suffrage have described it, and thus the reverent and judicious Bishop of Norwich conceived it, when he made both Remonstrants or Arminians, and Contra-remonstrants or Puritans (as he termed them) to err out of the true middle way which the Church of England holds in opposition to them both. In Election he makes this the error of the Remonstrants, “That they ground the Absolute decree of men’s particular Election upon the prescience of their faith and perseverance” (as this Author does) where that reverend Prelate holds with the Church of England, and Saint Augustine, Electio non invenit fideles, sed facit. As for the errors of the Puritans about Predestination or Election, he reduces them to these heads, “the excluding of the conditional decree or evangelical promise, the disordering of the decree of Predestination by bring it in before the fall and the decree of Christ’s incarnation. John Davenant, Animadversions Written By the Right Reverend Father in God, John, Lord Bishop of Sarisbury, upon a Treatise intitled “God’s love to Mankind,” (London: Printed for Iohn Partridge, 1641), 199-200. [Some spelling modernized.]

8) There is an eternal, absolute, immutable decree, revealed unto us in God’s word, “That whosoever believes in the Son of God, and leads a sober, just and godly life, shall be saved; and whosoever does not truly believe, but leads a lewd, unjust and wicked shall be damned. It is not the alteration of God’s decrees which men’s actions must aim at, but the obtaining of happiness and escaping wretchedness according to the tenor of his decrees. And herein no man’s action can be vain or fruitless. For God does not by the absolute decree of election absolutely determine to save Peter, whether he believe or not believe, repent or not repent; and therefore Peter’s faith and repentance are not in vain and idle actions. Neither does he by the absolute decree of Non-election or negative Reprobation absolutely determine to damn Judas, whether he believe or not believe, repent or not repent (such absolute decrees are the absolute mistakings of the Remonstrants); and therefore such good actions had not been vain and fruitless. We may truly say to every man in the world, elected or not-elected, as God himself spake to Cain [Gen. 4.7.], “If thou d well, shalt thou not be accepted?” Yes questionless: for “to every man that does good, shall be glory” &c., [Rom. 2.] No man shall be damned quia ab aeerno non electus ant reprobatus, sed quia in tempore infidelis & impius. John Davenant, Animadversions Written By the Right Reverend Father in God, John, Lord Bishop of Sarisbury, upon a Treatise intitled “God’s love to Mankind,” (London: Printed for Iohn Partridge, 1641), 331-332. [Some spelling modernized.]


1) Now as to the latter of these, It is also certain and directly connected with it, That any man whatsoever, through the benefit of the death of Christ, may claim to himself this right, that if he should believe, immediately all his sins are blotted out, and he is adopted as an heir of eternal life. For although on account of the want of fulfillment of the condition many cannot actually claim these promised blessings, yet there is no human being to whom they would not abound by virtue of the death of Christ, if the condition were fulfilled by him. This conditional decree of God, established by the death of Christ and revealed in the Gospel, from which we understand that God, by virtue of the passion of Christ, has obliged himself to give remission of sins and eternal life to every one that believes, and from which an universal right has arisen, not to certain persons in particular, but to any individual of the  human race, to obtain mission of sins under the aforesaid condition, is abundantly sufficient for this purpose, that it may be truly asserted that Christ suffered for all men. Nor is this conditional decree confirmed by the death of  Christ and extended to all men, a thing of no value because the infallible fulfillment of the condition depends upon another secret decree; since that secret decree inasmuch as it relates to this or the other individual, is altogether unknown to us, and therefore not to be declared to any one by name; but this conditional decree, which comprehends the whole human race, is to be announced to every individual as the most solid foundation of our evangelical doctrine, according to that declaration of the Apostle (Romans x, 8, 9, 11,) This is the word of faith which we preach, That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For the Scripture saith, Whosoever believes on him shall not be ashamed. This benefit by virtue of the death of Christ is set before, and to be procured by all men, under the condition of faith; and in that respect Christ is affirmed to have died for all men.  John Davenant, A Dissertation on the Death of Christ,  427-428.

[Note: My working theory is that this language of “conditional decree” was misunderstood by certain opponents of Amyraut and thus interpreted as a conditioned effectual decree, and this in spite of Amyraut’s own attempts to clarify and vindicate himself from this charge. Amyraut clearly asserted that by this language, he spoke only of the revealed will. What we see here is Davenant using the same language yet explicitly as expressive of the revealed and legislative will. What is also interesting is that Davenant does appear to distance himself from the Zanchian-Bucer language (later picked up by Twisse) of conditional election and conditional predestination; though for different reasons I am sure.]

Credit to Terry for #2.

This entry was posted on Friday, August 29th, 2008 at 7:48 am and is filed under Conditional Decree/Conditional Will. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

3 comments so far


Updated Davenant on ‘conditional decree.’ See entry #2.

September 5th, 2008 at 10:06 am

Updated the Davenant file on conditional decree. See entry #1, #3-#5. under the header of Animadversions.

September 23rd, 2008 at 5:56 pm

Updated Davenant on conditional decrees. See entries #s 6 and 7 under Animadversions.

September 25th, 2008 at 8:31 pm

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