1) It is usually asked what kind of knowledge that is by which God knows things that are conditionally future. The Jesuits here introduce their scientia media, to which they assign a middle place between scientia simplicis intelligentice and scientia visionis; inasmuch as God by the former knows things merely possible–things not absolutely but only conditionally future.

Here, therefore, scientia media is required. But we say in reply, that this scientia media is introduced without reason and foundation, because nothing else is necessary to the knowledge of future contingent events than the knowledge of the connexion between the antecedent and the consequent. Now the connexion between the conditions, namely, and the occurrence of events, is either necessary or arbitrary and free, and depending on the decree of God. If it be necessary it belongs to scientia simplicis intelligentice, by which God knows things with their consequences and relations. Thus he knew that the inhabitants of Keilah would deliver up David; not, however, by scientia media, but by scientia simplicis intelligentice, by which he knows the relations of things, whether these relations be absolutely or restrictedly necessary. But if the connexion be arbitrary, or depend upon the free determination of the will of God, then it belongs to scientia visionis, or to that knowledge by which he knows by his decree the relations and issues of things. Now there is a general decree by which he has ordained the connexions of things. This knowledge, therefore, belonged to that part of the decree by which he instituted the mutual relation of events, such as that which we have already adverted to in the case of Joash who, if he had smitten the arrows upon the ground five or six times, would have smitten and consumed Syria. The event in this case depended on the good pleasure of God, because he had instituted the connexion between it and what went before.

Such also is the connection between the condition of salvation and salvation itself;–”H e that believeth shall be saved”–a connexion which depends upon the free decree of God. The same remarks may be applied to all conditionally future events. Hermann Venema, Institutes of Theology, trans., by Alex W. Brown, (Andover: W.F. Draper Brothers, 1853), 155. [Some spelling modernized; italics original; and underlining mine.]

2) Notwithstanding all this however there are various orders and steps of the decree. These deserve to be noticed, inasmuch as the decree of God embraces various things which are perceived by us according to their nature and order. Some have the appearance of a cause, and others that of an end; some are regarded as means, while others are represented as antecedents or consequents.

Yet although such is the variety of the divine decrees, God must have comprehended them all in one act of his mind, whatever they were and whatever difference existed between them ; for he cannot in decreeing confound causes, ends, means, antecedents, and consequents, but must conceive of them all, of whatever kind they may be, in one mental act. And hence it is plain that we are right in treating of the order of the decree, although the expressions which we employ in doing so are not to be understood as really conveying correct ideas of the subject but only as suited to our imperfect capacities. The question then is not concerning the order and succession of thoughts in God, as if he decreed first one thing and then another, but concerning the order of the things themselves in our mind. This is a question of some importance and does not involve any thing that is at variance with the simplicity of God who by a single mental act comprehends the whole. What then is this order? On this subject there is a diversity of opinion among divines. But we pass over their controversies and say briefly

That the first thought had reference to the general end of all the works of God–the manifestation namely and recognition of his own perfections or what we call the glory of God. This general end was the first thing contemplated and was as it were the moving cause of all.

But the second thought had reference to the formation of the world and the creation of man with the view of manifesting his goodness, wisdom, power, &c.

That the third related to the permission of the fall and that too for wise ends.

That the fourth referred to man’s deliverance from the fall. This last again was conceived in the following order. There was first the consideration of the end in view, namely the manifestation of his glory and justice.

Then there was the contemplation of the general means for the attainment of that endnamely the sending of Christ into the world and the appointment of faith as a condition, his purpose being to save some men for the sake of Christ and to condemn others. This is what we call his general decree.

The first consideration had reference to a Mediator; then came that which related to the conditions and the bond of union to Christ–faith namely and love. This latter consideration, however, was irrespective of certain persons, which is the general decree of predestination and has reference to those who believe and follow after godliness. In this decree God gave Christ to the human race as Redeemer that they might be saved by him, and instituted a connection between faith and salvation and between unbelief and damnation.

In its special form he ordained particular and effectual grace, and he decreed that by it a certain number should believe and be saved, or he appointed those in whom the connection between faith and salvation or between unbelief and damnation should be found, or he marked out for some salvation in Christ and denied that salvation to others. This is the special decree or election.

Such is the natural order of the divine decree or rather of the things decreed. This is shown by the execution of the decree. For of whatever kind be the objects comprehended in it, and in whatever way they succeed each other in time so they all were in the mind of God in the precise order in which they are evolved. He could not regard them otherwise than they are and occur. His decree is thus an uncompounded well arranged act.

We add that the divine decree was a single act and was formed from eternity to the exclusion of all subsequent appointments. When we say that it was a single act, we mean that the whole decree was made from eternity, and that no room was left for decrees to be made in time.

This opinion is opposed chiefly by Socinians who say that there were only three eternal decrees–those, namely, which related to the creation of the world, to the mission of Christ, and to the salvation of believers and condemnation of unbelieving and impenitent sinners,–and that those which refer to such actions as are free were made in time according to circumstances and the conduct of men or as necessity required.

This opinion is opposed by the unity of the decree, by which we mean, as we have seen and explained, that it was made at one and the same instant and before the foundations of the world were laid. Scripture declares that all God’s works are manifest or (as the word denotes) known to him from the beginning, Acts xv. 18; and that he “works all things after the counsel of his own will,” Eph. i .11.

The divine decree embraces every thing that exists in time, for it was formed before the foundation of the world. Being formed then, and extending to every particular, there can be no occasion for other and new decrees. If there were, then the decree would not be universal, which however we have proved it to be. Besides, this idea of decrees in time would destroy the simplicity of the divine nature, for then God would determine upon some new act, there would be an accession to his knowledge. But he knows no such succession as belongs to our minds, who continually cherish new thoughts and perform fresh actions. The decree therefore is one and was made simul et semel, nor are there any of the divine purposes which received their being in time.

The act of the decree is absolute not uncertain or doubtful. It is not suspended on any condition on the part of man. The Remonstrants say that it is and distinguish the divine decrees into absolute and conditional. Of the former, according to them, there are only the three already, specified, and these are also eternal. The rest which relate to individuals, to their actions, and to their destiny, they call conditional, because the execution of them depends on the performance or non-performance of some condition by the persons themselves. They hold that God simply determined what the creatures ought or ought not to do in time without fixing what they would really do and what their condition in eternity would he. They maintain that he decreed the salvation of some and the damnation of others only conditionally,–If thou believes thou shalt be saved; if not thou shalt be damned. This condition was suspended on the liberty of these individuals respectively and was not definitely ordained by God. They thus deny the absolute and unconditional nature of those decrees which refer to particular persons.

Now although we do not hold this, we do not deny that God in his decree instituted a universal connection between faith and salvation, and that he determined what the creatures ought to do if they wished to be happy. This we call his general decree. But we say, moreover, that there is also a special decreethat God determined what the creatures would do and what their condition would bewho should believe and who should notand that his decree regarding them and every thing relating to them was absolute. This does not imply that his decree was made without any regard to means. Means are intimately connected with a proposed end, and he who desires to attain the latter desires also to employ the former. And thus God who settled the condition of his creatures fixed also upon the means for bringing it about. His decree is not so absolute as that whatever he may do with the creature he may do without means. But it is equally plain that God has willed his decree in regard to particular persons endued with liberty to be also absolute and not conditional only. We may easily be persuaded of this if we consider the arguments of our opponents in favor of conditional decrees. We shall observe this order in what follows with the view of refuting these arguments, turning them against those who use them, and confirming the opinion which we hold.

One of their arguments in favor of conditional decrees is founded on the conditional propositions contained in Scripture. If thou believes thou shalt be saved. Whosoever believeth shall not perish. These and similar propositions they say, being conditional, prove that the decree is also conditional, because the former cannot be at variance with and different from the latter.

We admit the whole of this argument but we deny that it necessarily follows that no decree is absolute. Even in regard to a matter which is conditionally stated the propositions are conditional; they are no doubt conditions of the divine decrees and are in them selves true, but they are conditions of a part not of the whole of the decree. There is a decree by which God has fixed what is conditionally proposed–whether, namely, the creature will fulfil the condition or not. We maintain that this also as we shall see immediately forms part of God’s eternal purpose. From these conditional propositions therefore no argument can be drawn against our theory.

But we may turn the argument against those who make use of it and draw from it one in favor of our own opinion. Our argument is this, that those things which are conditionally proposed in Scripture appear from other places to have been absolutely settled in respect of futurition as what should assuredly take place. We shall give two examples in illustration and proof of this. Hermann Venema, Institutes of Theology, trans., by Alex W. Brown, (Andover: W.F. Draper Brothers, 1853), 287-291.  [Some spelling modernized; italics original; and underlining mine.]

3) 2. We said that the doctrine [of predestination] may be viewed a priori or in its reference to the eternal purpose of God. As it is evident from what has already been stated that he acts in two ways with men–the one of which refers to the saving of some and the condemning of others–the other to the communication of common grace to both, and to

the bestowing only upon some of that special grace which is connected with faith, we may readily conclude that the decree of predestination is agreeable to this twofold result; or, to speak more correctly, that there are two parts of the divine decree, the one more general, the other more special.

The former of these has reference to the work of God in saving some and in condemning others, the latter, to the unequal distribution of grace.

We may call the former the general purpose of God and the latter his special purpose. But if any prefer calling this counsel or purpose general and special predestination, it is the same to us, for we are not disputing about the name. It is designated in Scripture will, counsel, purpose; but as it is now commonly called predestination, we may retain the word and apply it to both parts of the divine counsel. Hence arises the division into predestination

(a.) General and
(b.) Special.

(a.) In treating of general predestination we shall

I . Explain,
II . Prove, and
III . Speak of the place which it holds in the order of the decrees, and advert to the opinions held on this point by the Supralapsarians and Sublapsarians.

I. In regard to the explanation we premise this definition. General predestination is the eternal and immutable determination of the will of God by which he has purposed to save some of the human race and to condemn others, without any regard to their persons, and with this view to offer to all without distinction grace to believe and to repent, and to inculcate this upon all as their duty.

This decree therefore is properly speaking nothing else than a general combination of ends and means or a connection between faith and salvation and between unbelief and destruction–a general purpose without regard to any particular persons, and therefore all that is required in order to understand this decree is a knowledge of the ends and the means.

The end in respect to God is his own glory, the manifestation of his justice and mercy in saving some and condemning others. In reference to men it is the salvation or eternal life of those who believe, and the eternal destruction of the impenitent and unbelieving. The means in regard to salvation are faith in Christ, and in regard to destruction unbelief and impenitence.

This is the simple view of the whole of the general decree–a connection, and that generally without respect to persons, between faith and salvation and unbelief and final ruin.

In order to understand this decree it is further necessary to bear in mind that God did not in forming it design the salvation of all men but only of believers, and of all such without distinction.

By this decree God has excluded none in the proposition “he that believeth shall be saved,” as if any individual who believes may be condemned and not saved. Such a proposition is employed because a connection has been instituted between faith and salvation, and therefore it has reference also to those who are not saved.

By this decree, moreover, God does not design, by what is called a positive act of his will, that all shall believe. In this case all would believe. For whatever he positively wills, that he also accomplishes by suitable means. He wills only negatively, inasmuch as he does not will that any should not believe. On the other hand, he wills by an act of his will exercised in commanding and approving that all to whom the general proposition is addressed should believe. This is a simple view of the general decree in all its extent. And hence we may see how perverse and invidious is the conduct of those who endeavor to confound this doctrine with that of the Arminians or Remonstrants.

In our system there is, in addition to the general, a special decree which the Remonstrants deny, who insist upon the general decree alone.

The general decree of predestination is something else than the general decree which they hold. For, according to them, God intended directly the salvation of all; whereas, according to our system, he intended the salvation not of all men but only of believers. ‘ According to them, too, God intended to give faith to all to whom the general proposition should be made. He is therefore defeated in his intention if men do not believe. But the act of believing is left to themselves, so that they may or may not believe. According to our system, however, God, without respect of persons, has only instituted a general connection between faith, and salvation. He does not will that men should not believe; on the contrary, he commands them to do so, and also seriously intends the salvation of those who believe. This view of the matter is assuredly widely different from the opinion held by the Remonstrants. We shall shew in a subsequent part of the work how this doctrine harmonizes with the doctrine regarding the special decree. In the meantime let us proceed.

II. To prove it or to show that it rests on a sufficiently solid foundation.

Before doing so, however, and in order to understand correctly the point in dispute between us and our opponents, let us ascertain precisely the state of the question.

The question then is whether there be a connection between faith and salvation and whether that connection be general or particular. It is admitted by all that there is a connection ; but it is commonly held that it refers to the elect and to them alone: whereas, according to our system, this connection is general and has no reference to the elect, or. the reprobate, or any particular persons.

The question is whether the Scriptural declaration “he that, believeth shall be saved” refers also to those who do not believe and are not saved; so that those who hear or read that declaration should regard it as having reference to them, and conclude that they also are comprehended under it, and that if they believe they also shall be saved. This is the opinion which we hold; but some deny that it has reference to any except the elect.

The question is whether faith is required by the will of God from all who hear or read the declaration “he that believeth shall be saved”–Whether, we say, God may in truth and seriousness demand from those who are not saved that they believe that declaration and apply it to themselves. Our opponents deny this and hold that it pertains to the elect alone and that God can require them alone to believe.

The question, moreover, is whether in particular election and reprobation man is viewed simply as created and fallen, or also as placed in. a state in which, as far as it respects God, salvation is possible, and not in a state like that of the Devil and his angels and lost souls, in which salvation is no longer possible. Those who hold the absolute nature of .the decree of reprobation say that the subjects of that decree were not considered by God as placed in such a state, because he absolutely and eternally appointed them to destruction.

Our opinion is that God did view them in this light–so that the declaration “he that believes shall be saved” has a reference to all, and that God has made a distinction between them in giving, out of his mere good pleasure, special grace to some, and in the exercise of wisdom and justice in denying it to others. This we call special predestination.

Having thus defined the state of the question we go on to prove the doctrine of general predestination, and with this view adduce the following arguments.

Having thus defined the state of the question we go on to prove the doctrine of general predestination, and with this view adduce the following arguments.

1. Scripture, in some places, speaks with sufficient distinctness of a certain divine counsel or purpose regarding the salvation of men, which is distinct, however, from the special decree and cannot be understood as the decree of election and reprobation. We read, for instance, that “the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves,” Luke vii. 30. What counsel was this? Was it the absolute special decree? No one certainly will affirm this, because that decree is uniformly put in execution and cannot be rejected by men. Was it such counsel as one friend gives another? The counsel of God according to the style of Scripture is his wise purpose regarding the salvation of men, and this is what is meant by the word in the passage quoted above. Our Lord says that John came to proclaim the kingdom of heaven and to urge men to receive the counsel which the Pharisees rejected. There is therefore a general purpose on the part of God to save those who believe a purpose which had reference also to those who rejected it. The decree, however, is so well known to be designated by this name that we need not condescend upon proofs.

2. Paul tells the elders of Ephesus in his farewell address that he had not shunned to declare unto them “all the counsel of God,” Acts xx. 27. But this was not the special decree, for it is known to none, it has been hidden from eternity. It was the general purpose of God as to the connection between faith and salvation in Christ. This was what Paul declared to the Ephesians and what he here calls the “counsel of God,” He made known to them the way to eternal life and the proposition to which we have already adverted, namely “he that believes shall be saved.” But it called also “the will” of God.

3. There is one passage worthy of particular notice, because it makes mention both of the general and special decree, and gives to both the name of “the will” of God, John vi. 39, 40. In the former of these verses our Lord refers to the special decree when he says, this is the Father’s will which hath sent me that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing.” In the latter he refers to the general decree, i.e. ” the will of him that sent me, that every one which sees the Son and believes on him may have everlasting life.” In the former, we say, he speaks of the special or particular decree by which God chose some and gave them to Christ to be redeemed by him; in the latter, he speaks of the general decree by which God instituted a connection between faith in Christ and salvation.

4. We read again that God hath saved us “according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began. But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ,” 2 Tim. i. 9, 10. What purpose and grace is this ? Unquestionably it is the will of God in reference to the connection between faith and salvation and the determination to save those who believe. It is not the special decree by which he chose one or did not choose another to eternal life ; for this decree cannot be made manifest in Christ, but only his purpose to offer grace to all.

5. Even the conditional propositions contained in Scripture serve to confirm the doctrine which we are now endeavoring to prove, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life,” John iii. 16. ” He that believes and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believes not shall be damned,” Mark xvi. 16. ” To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believes in him shall receive remission of sins,” Acts x. 43. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved,” Acts xvi. 31. “For Christ is the end of the law to every one that believes. 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 hath said, Whosoever believes on him shall not be ashamed,” Rom. x. 4, 9, J1. We meet with many such propositions as these in the word of God. Now there is a divine decree of precisely the same character as these general and conditional propositions. The truth of them is certain–they are agreeable to the will of God, and thus give us an exact representation of what his will really is. He cannot unfold his will so as to make it appear different from what it is–he cannot think one thing and purpose another, and therefore there must be a general and conditional purpose. But the special decree is not of this kind, and no such proposition having reference to it can be made; for the proposition must correspond in character and extent with the decree itself. We must either deny, therefore, that there are propositions of the purpose of God or hold that there is a general and conditional purpose. But how can we make such a denial, seeing that the propositions cannot but be agreeable to the will of God? And if they are agreeable, then, of whatever kind they may be, there is a will or purpose corresponding to them.

6. It is the will of God that those to whom the proposition of the Gospel is made should receive that declaration and apply it to themselves.. If, how Now this proposition, i.e., “he that believes shall be saved,” is made indiscriminately to all, even to those who do not believe and who are not saved, and therefore according to the will of God it has reference to all to whom it is made. If this be not admitted then we cannot hold that God seriously wills that all men should receive the proposition made to them ever, he does so will, then it must have reference to all who read or hear it, and the purpose by which he has ordained a connexion between faith and salvation must be general. We are aware, indeed, that there is a particular connection which has reference only to the elect; yet this proposition is made to all without distinction. For it would be absurd to suppose that God says to all believe and ye shall be saved and yet that he does not will that they should believe and be saved. But we have said the offer is made to all by those who preach the gospel, who, though they know not who are elected and who are reprobate, yet proclaim the offer in the universal terms in which it is made in Scripture. If however it be said that, although the proposition be addressed to all, there is not a general purpose on the part of God and that he does not will that those who are not elected should believe that the proposition applies to them, what is this but treating them with mockery? Is not this, on God’s part, a representation or unfolding of his will different from what his will really is? But the simplicity and the truth of God forbid us believing that he would do so. Our Lord expressly says to Jerusalem “how often would I have gathered thy children together, . . . . and ye would not,” Matt, xx iii . 37. God says of his vineyard “wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes,, brought it forth wild grapes,” Is. v. 4. If therefore we would not impugn the sincerity of God we must hold that there is a general decree by which he has purposed to save them that believe.

7. Scripture assures us that the love of God towards men as such is universal–that he has “no pleasure in the death of him that dies” that he “will have all men to be saved and to come unto the knowledge of the truth”–that he is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance,” Ezek. xviii . 32; 1 Tim. ii. 4; 2 Pet. iii. 9. From these passages we infer that there is a general will or purpose of God held forth in the gospel by which he has linked together faith and salvation without excluding any man, and declares that it is agreeable to him that all should believe and live. If this be denied then it follows that he absolutely willed that some should perish and that, according to his good pleasure, the proposition “he that believes shall be saved” should not apply to them. What becomes, in this case, of his universal love? What are we to make of the passages in which he declares that he wills not the death of the sinner, that he will have all men to be saved?

8. If the proposition refer, as some say, only to the elect, then it will necessarily follow

(a.) That faith cannot be required from those to whom it is made but to whom it does not apply. How can I be called to believe a statement which has no relation to myself? But all to whom the gospel is addressed are required to believe and therefore the proposition refers to all.

(b.) Another necessary consequence will be that those who do not believe are not chargeable with sin. For how can they be said to sin in not receiving a proposition which has no reference to them, which was not designed to apply to them? Is not this opposed alike to the nature of God and to the statements of Scripture? But they who do not believe are guilty of sin as well as those who disobey the gospel. “If I had not come and spoken unto them,” Christ says, “they had not had sin,” John xv. 22. “The Spirit,” he says again, will reprove the world” of sin, because they believe not on me,” John xvi. 9. Did not the Pharisees commit sin, when they rejected the counsel of God against themselves? Therefore (c) If men do not sin in not believing the proposition they cannot justly be punished for their unbelief. Yet they are punished and most severely punished for rejecting the counsel of God; and therefore it is manifest that the proposition applies also to those who do not receive it and who are not saved.

9. If the connexion between faith and salvation have not a reference to all without distinction to whom the proposition of that connexion is made, then it evidently follows that those to whom it does not refer must be regarded by God as already in the same position as devils and as those who after death are for ever lost. There would be no difference between them. Salvation would be impossible to the former as it is to the latter. But such a conclusion is contrary alike to reason and Scripture which teach us that man while here is in a state in which salvation is possible–that there is a difference between his situation in this world and that in which he will be placed after death–that, while in eternity he will be hopelessly condemned and lost, he has now an opportunity of repentance, a season of grace in which God may be found and salvation secured. But this would not be true in regard to those who perish if there were not a general purpose, if they were considered even in this life as lost. Can it be reasonably supposed that God should offer grace to such and couple that offer with a command to receive it–that he should say to them at the very time when he looks upon them as if they were already in the place of woe, believe and ye shall be saved? And yet this must be supposed, if there be not a general purpose.

10. If there be not a general purpose or decreeif it be denied that there is a universal connexion between faith and salvation, it follows that those who believe cannot be in any other way certain that they will be saved although they believe. Unless we hold that God wills to save all who believe, how can I be assured that I will be saved if I believe? The proposition which makes me certain of this must therefore be universal, whosoever believes shall be savedif I believe I will be saved. If however we make the major term particular and say, some believers or the elect will be saved, therefore I by believing will be saved, who does not see that such a conclusion is unwarrantable? In order to draw such a conclusion the proposition must be general as it really is, and I can do so safely because on such a proposition all truth is certain and rests on a sure foundation. Our Lord reasoned in this way ” Of all whom the Father hath given to me I shall Jose nothing,” John vi. 40. “Ask and it shall be given you,” &c , “for every one that asks receives,” Matt. vii. 7, 8.

These arguments may suffice if not to carry conviction regarding the truth of what has been advanced, at least to lead all to think soberly on such a profound and mysterious doctrine. It is a doctrine that was held by ancient divines, nor was it called in question until after the introduction of the absolute decree of reprobation, when they separated into two parties. Those who wish further information on the subject should consult Holzfusius, who in a work on predestination has satisfactorily explained and proved this doctrine. Hermann Venema, Institutes of Theology, trans., by Alex W. Brown, (Andover: W.F. Draper Brothers, 1853), 300-308. [Some spelling modernized; italics original; and underlining mine.]


Special Predestination, or the special part of the decree of predestination, to which we shall now direct our attention, we regard as inseparably connected with the general decree. By this Special decree we understand the free, immutable, and eternal determination of the will of God to give to some of those to whom the offer of mercy was to be made that peculiar and efficacious grace which is connected with faith and salvation, and in the exercise of justice to withhold it from others on account of their abuse of his common grace, and because of this abuse, to doom them as unbelievers to destruction.

In the general decree God simply instituted a connection between faith and salvation without any regard to individual persons; whereas in the special decree he marked out those in whom this connexion should eventually be found. But assuredly these two things are not in any way contrary to each other.

In the former God does not design the salvation of all men as such but only of believers. In the latter his design is the same; but he has besides purposed who shall believe and who shall not.

In the former God does not by a positive act of his will design the salvation of any in regard to whom he does not purpose in the latter that they shall really be saved. These two things would oppose and destroy each other. God by his general decree does not positively will that all shall believe; for this would be inconsistent with the special decree in which he has not formed such a purpose. But neither has he positively willed in the general decree that they should not believe, and to this there is nothing contrary in the special decree. In the special decree he has not purposed that believers generally shall be saved, but has fixed that those who abuse his common shall not receive his peculiar and efficacious grace, and shall therefore be condemned, and that some shall be put in possession of that grace with which faith and salvation are inseparably connected. Thus the special decree does not oppose the general but only adds something to it.

But the special decree is to be kept in subordination to the general decree and to be put after it.

The latter in the order of nature precedes the former. In the latter God instituted the general connection between faith and eternal life; in the former he fixed upon the persons in whom this connection should be produced, so that the order and nature of things require that the special occupy the relative place which we have assigned to it.

Besides Christ was in the mind of God before the particular persons who were to be united to Christ, and who are said to have been chosen in him, Eph. i. 4. The decree of election, therefore, is posterior to the general purpose or will of God. The order of our ideas also requires this relative position of the two decrees. For we reason from the general to the special. Whosoever believeth shall be saved–believe, therefore I shall be saved. The major proposition cannot be formed from the special but from the general decree. In the mind of God, therefore, the latter must take precedence of the former.

In explaining this special decree, i.e. the decree of election and reprobation, we must attend

I. To its substance, and
II . To its form.

I. The substance of this decree comprehends

(a.) Its objects.
(b.) Its ends, and
(c.) Its means.

(a.) The objects of the decree are certain men who were all regarded by God as not only created and fallen but also as in a possible state of salvation in respect of God,–all in precisely the same situation and same circumstances. These points we have already considered at sufficient length, and made, we trust, sufficiently clear.

(b.) The ends of the decree refer both to election and reprobation. The end of election is faith or union to Christ by faith. It is commonly said to be salvation or eternal life, and this may be considered as its remote end. But it is incorrectly so called, if the proper and immediate end be understood to be referred to. Salvation is the end of faith, and as we have already shown, the connexion between these two depends upon the general decree. We are treating now of the special decree which is subordinate to the general, and the end of which in respect of election can be nothing else than faith or union to Christ by faith on which salvation depends. This is evident from the connection of the special with the general decree as well as from the true and proper meaning of election.

Scripture declares that the end of election is faith and adds that we are chosen in Christ. God hath “chosen the poor of this world rich in faith,” James ii. 5 ; i.e. as our interpreters understand the words, “that each of them may be rich in faith.” “Whom he did predestinate them he also called, and whom he called, them he also justified,” Rom. viii . 30. As therefore the immediate end of calling is justification, so calling consequently on which faith depends is the immediate end of predestination. Faith therefore is the end of predestination. Scripture moreover teaches us that we are chosen in order that we maybe “without blame before him” and in consequence of our union by faith to Christ live in the practice of holiness, Eph. i. 4.

Scripture says also that we are chosen in Christ, thereby indirectly intimating that faith is the end of election–not as if we were considered in the decree as already united to Christ, but because in our election we are given to Christ and destined to be united to him. For Christ is here viewed as the appointed Savior of all believers and that too before the special decree was made. On this account we are said to be chosen in him, i.e. we were in election set apart for him and given to him. This is confirmed by the representation we have of the covenant entered into between the Father and the Son. In this covenant the Father gave certain persons to the Son to be redeemed by him, and we are considered in it as the flock of Christ to whom he gives eternal life, John x. 27, 28. As election, therefore, is of the Father, it must have for its end our union to Christ by faith.

The very idea of election rightly considered teaches us the same truth. For it is a choice of some from among many. Now the question is in what does this choice consist? Unquestionably in faith in Christ and in our thus being united to him. But why then is election eternal? The choice was made from eternity in the mind of God. But as election is made in time by faith, it must also have been such in the eternal purpose of God. It cannot be in eternity different from what it is in time. But in time it is by faith in Christ, it must also be by faith in the eternal purpose of God. Therefore we conclude that the immediate end of election is faith in Christ.

To this it has been objected,

(a.) Scripture says “God hath not appointed us to wrath but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ,” 1 Thess. v. 9. But the word appointed is understood not of the special but of the general decree, he hath appointed those who believe not to wrath but to obtain salvation– that nothing can be concluded from this passage adverse to the view which we have given. We read that ” as many as were ordained to eternal life believed,” Acts. xiii. 48. We reply that eternal life is spoken of here not as the immediate but as the remote end, We do not deny that it is the end of election, but we say that it is not the immediate end. The immediate end is faith–a remote end is eternal life; and seeing that there is a connection between the two, the latter is presented to our view not the former. This passage confirms our opinion, for when it is said that they believed, it is plain that faith is the immediate effect of their being ordained and accordingly the immediate end of their election.

But it may be questioned whether there is any reference in this passage to predestination. The apostle does not say “as many as were predestinated” but “as many as were ordained.” The interpretation would be somewhat absurd, if predestination be understood, namely that, because no one could be said to have believed in Christ at that time except those who then actually believed, no others were predestinated to eternal life,–a fact which was not known to the apostle. Paul therefore must have known that none but those who believed at that time were elected, ordained to eternal life. But this none will admit; for the secret and eternal purpose of God is hid from all.

The apostle probably meant nothing more than that those believed who were ordained to life, or that they were actuated by the desire to be put in possession of this blessing and were led to aspire after it.

This interpretation may be illustrated by what is said in the 46th verse where the Jews are spoken of as putting the word of God from them and judging themselves unworthy of eternal life, and thus showed that their state of mind was far different from that of many of the Gentiles to whom the same word was addressed. This disposition however was not of their own creating, it was produced in them by God. It was not the result of any efforts of their own but was wrought in them by the particular and efficacious grace of God. And thus the meaning is that those believed who had this disposition bestowed upon them whose hearts as in the case of Lydia God had opened to believe, in whom he had awakened a desire to be put in possession of eternal life. There seems nothing in this passage at all at variance with the proposition we have laid down, that faith is the. immediate and direct end of election. (c.) The proper means of election is particular, efficacious, irresistible grace,–grace, therefore, intimately connected with faith and not bestowed upon all–by which the heart is opened and fitted for the reception of faith. But of this grace we will speak more at length when we come to regeneration and effectual calling.

The other part of the special decree is reprobation. This is not the absolute will of God concerning the condemnation of some men without regard to anything else than his mere good pleasure. For there is no such absolute decree; nor can it consist with the general decree of which we have already spoken. It is opposed also to the universal love of God towards men and cannot possibly be reconciled with the general proposition he that believes shall be saved, a proposition however which must be regarded as true if we would not call in question the sincerity and faithfulness of God. The arguments drawn from it will tell powerfully against absolute reprobation, nor is it necessary to adduce more for the purpose of refuting it.

This decree is supposed by some to be referred to by Paul when he says quoting from the Old Testament, “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated,” Rom. ix. 13. But the word “hated” does not mean an absolute decree of reprobation, but only that God loved the one less than the other and did not design for him particular grace or as it called in the 18th verse hardened him. To hate and to love less are exchangeable terms. “If any man,” Christ says,” come to me and hate not his father, &c. he cannot be my disciple,” Luke xiv. 16. “H e that loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me,” Matt. x . 37. In such instances as these hatred cannot be understood in any other sense than that which we have assigned to it, i.e. loving less. For the hating of our parents in the ordinary acceptation of the term is forbidden, and yet here our Lord enjoins it upon us. Nor is the circumstance of the apostle’s using the figure of a potter in the 21st verse to be considered as a proof of the existence of this absolute decree. For he is not speaking of what God actually does but of what he has a sovereign right and power to do with man. This deserves especial notice. The apostle refers to what God says in the Old Testament, ” O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as the potter,” Jer. xviii . 6. He may do so, yet he does not like the potter act arbitrarily but in harmony with his justice, goodness, and truth. The apostle does not say in the 22nd verse that God formed the “vessels of wrath,” but only, and that distinctly, that they were “fitted to destruction” and that he “endured” them “with much long-suffering, to make his power known.” They were fitted for destruction not absolutely but by their own corruption. When God made a ” vessel unto dishonor ” the lump from which it was taken was impure. There is therefore no absolute decree of reprobation, and if divines could prevail upon themselves to reject it they would avoid many stumbling blocks and difficulties connected with this doctrine.

What then is reprobation? In our opinion it is the withholding on the part of God from some men of his particular grace on which faith depends. The consequence of this withholding is unbelief. And thus they who are reprobate are destined to unbelief as the immediate end of reprobation by the denial of this particular grace. The remote end is their condemnation because of their unbelief.

If it be asked why God ordained them to destruction as reprobation is usually understood, we answer because he foresaw that they would not believe. If it be asked on what foundation this foreknowledge rests, we say on God’s denying them particular grace. If moreover it be asked why he denied them this grace, we reply because it was his good pleasure so to do. If finally the question be put whether his pleasure was arbitrary, we say that was not but that

he acted agreeably to his wisdom and justice, that he had reasons of his own although they be unknown by us for withholding from them his efficacious grace. He never acts without the wisest reasons; for his wisdom is infinite, and as to the justice of his good pleasure we may say that it consisted in his denying special grace to those who abused his common grace and in his condemning them for that abuse. Hermann Venema, Institutes of Theology, trans., by Alex W. Brown, (Andover: W.F. Draper Brothers, 1853), 314-319.

5) Scripture states that the decree of predestination was made before the foundation of the world. “According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world,” Eph. i. 4. “And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world,” Rev. xiii. 8. The words “before the foundation of the world” in the latter of these passages are not connected with those which go immediately before, namely, “the Lamb slain,” but with this writing in the book; for it is an unsuitable and unusual expression to call Christ a Lamb slain from the foundation of the world. But there is a parallel passage which removes all difficulty. “They that dwell on the earth shall wonder (whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world) when they behold the beast,” &c , Rev. xvii. 8. The same words are here expressly

connected with the writing in the book of life. Now as the names ;are said to be written there, they certainly lead us to conclude that these particular persons were chosen by God. The expression is not to be understood, as our opponents would have it to be, of conditions, for it is never so used. Names are marks of personality and require that there be persons who have been chosen in the purpose of God. This is the meaning of the phrase. It is taken from the practice of men who enrol the names of citizens and of heirs, or from the practice of kings who registered the names of their subjects in a census. It is evident therefore that the decree of election is eternal.

(3.) We have only a few words to say in reference to the immutability of the decree, because, as we have seen when treating of the general decree, the matter is not called in question. For when our opponents say that the decree of predestination is changed, they understand the conditional part of it, and this certainly is said to be changed when men do not fulfil the condition. But there is really no change in the decree itself. Its fulfilment was suspended upon

the condition, and, when the condition is not implemented, the decree is not altered but only the execution of the decree, which is fixed by the observance or neglect of the conditions prescribed.

We maintain that the decree is absolute and therefore immutable. This may be said particularly of the special decree. “The gifts and the calling of God are without repentance,” Rom. xi. 29. The elect are represented as having their names written in the book of life and this writing certainly remains. But as we have said this necessarily follows if the decree be absolute which it really is.

Having thus finished the didactic exposition of this doctrine, we now proceed to remove the difficulties which attend it, to vindicate it from the objections which have been brought against it, and to refute the principal arguments that have been employed to uphold the system of our opponents. Hermann Venema, Institutes of Theology, trans., by Alex W. Brown, (Andover: W.F. Draper Brothers, 1853), 325-326.

6) Another objection against this doctrine is that it takes away all motives to make use of the means of salvation, because an individual may reason with himself thus,–if I am elected, God will in his own time effectually call and regenerate me; if I am reprobate, all that I do is vain, all the means ordinarily employed to attain salvation will

be utterly unavailing. We admit that men may reason in this way from our doctrine regarding the decree of reprobation, but we deny that they must necessarily thus reason. They may argue in a different way and with greater safety. Allowing this doctrine to stand, a man may thus reason with himself,–I am uncertain what God has purposed in regard to me; but I know this, that no one will be saved unless he believe and lead a holy life, and therefore it is safer for me to employ every means for the attainment of salvation and to leave my future condition to God. We hold that men should not thus reason from our doctrine regarding the general decree of predestination, because God has instituted a general connection between faith and salvation without rejecting any or dooming them to destruction. All may thus be certain that “he that believes shall be saved,” and that, if they believe, they also will be saved. There is no ground to fear that this proposition will not hold true in regard to them, and therefore no one may say–It is a matter of no consequence whether I believe or not,–for God does not expressly exclude any; his language is “he that believes shall be saved.” An earnest desire and effort after salvation therefore cannot be to no purpose, for we do not hold that there is such a decree as that of absolute reprobation. But we maintain that God has ordained a general connection between faith and salvation. Finally a man cannot by our doctrine be forbidden the use of means, because God who wills the end wills also the means, and because those whom he wills to save he also wills to save by means.

Once more it is objected that our doctrine [of predestination] is inimical to godliness and virtue and leads to carnal security. This objection we shall consider when we come to the practical use of the doctrine. Let us now look at the system of our opponents and at the arguments on which it is made to rest.

They all agree in this that decrees are either absolute or conditional, but they admit that there are only three of the former, those namely which relate to the creation of the world, to the mission of Christ, and to the salvation of believers; the rest which refer to men individually they call conditional. In these God decreed not what man should actually do but what he ought to do if he would be saved and not perish.

But they differ among themselves in regard to the eternity of the decree.

Some admit that it is eternal, as the Pelagians, the Jesuits, and with a few exceptions the Remonstrants. They hold that the decree was the result of the foreknowledge of God in regard to man’s fulfilling or neglecting the condition of salvation, that God communicates equal grace to all but leaves the use or abuse of it to men themselves, that

he foresaw who would improve and who would misimprove it and that upon this foresight he predestinated the former to salvation and the latter to destruction.

Others, however, of the Remonstrants and the Socinians deny the eternity of the decrees and say that God foresaw or predestinated nothing, but only waited to see what men would perform or neglect, and that then in time he formed his decrees. They scarcely deserve to be attended to, however, and we have already refuted them when treating of the foreknowledge of God.

The former of these who hold that the decree is the result of Gods foresight of the faith of some and of the unbelief of others argue in favor of their opinion from the conditional statements of Scripture, from the universal love of God, and from some passages of his word.

In regard to the argument drawn from conditional declarations, such as ” Whosoever believes shall be saved” and the like, our system concerning the general decree furnishes an easy reply. We hold that these conditional declarations do indeed belong to the decree, but that they are declarations not of the whole of it but only of a partbecause besides the general decree in which God has instituted a connection between faith and salvation, there is also a special decree regarding the unequal dispensation of peculiar efficacious grace. Nor is there any opposition between these two, the one being the divine purpose regarding the way of salvation and the other the selection or choice of those who by that way shall be put in possession of eternal life. From these general or conditional declarations it cannot be inferred that there is not a special decree of election and reprobation.

To the argument drawn from the universal love of God in favor of the equal distribution of the same grace to all, we reply, we admit that that love exists, but we do not admit that in the exercise of it God has given equally to all the same means of salvation. This is contradicted by experience. In this respect, as we have already seen, there is an important distinction to be observed. We have also seen that the unequal distribution of special grace is not opposed to the goodness of God. This will appear more evident in a subsequent part of our work. Hermann Venema, Institutes of Theology, trans., by Alex W. Brown, (Andover: W.F. Draper Brothers, 1853), 328-330.

[Richard Muller:

Hermann Venema (1697-1787); studied at Groningen (1711-1714) and Franecker (1714-1718). In 1723 he succeeded the younger Vitringa as professor of theology at Franecker, a post he held until his retirement in 1774. His dogmatic work was published posthumously in English translation: Institutes of Theology (1850). Richard Muller, Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics, 1:51 (first edition).]

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