Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Select Annotations and Quotations on Supra- & Infralapsarianism: Part II

In this section of the bibliography, I provide a sambling of primary sources from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. As the details of this discussion can easily overwhelm and even discourage, C. S. Lewis’ famous advice on reading Plato – in his excellet introduction to Anselm’s On the Incarnation – equally applies to the lapsarian debate and should be heeded, “firsthand knowledge is not only more worth acquiring than secondhand knowledge, but is usually much easier and more delightful to acquire.”

Reformation and Post-Reformation

Sixteenth Century

  • John Calvin’s (1509-1564) historical and theological importance for this debate is undeniable. All sides – whether supralapsarian, infralapsarian, or Amyraldian – have claimed him in an attempt to buttress their position. However, extreme care should be taken not to impose upon the Reformer seventeenth century debates. With this qualification, the question of the order of the decrees was not irrelevant to Calvin. For pertinent texts, see John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2 vols., ed. John T. McNeill, trans. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1960), 1.16.1ff; 2.12.5; 3.21.1-3.25.17, etc. An important passage – which supralapsarians have especially highlighted – is found in Book 2 as Calvin reflects on Ephesians 1:4-7, “Here, surely, the fall of Adam is not presupposed as preceding God’s decrees in time; but it is what God determined before all ages that is shown, when he willed to heal the misery of mankind” (2.15.5). In addition to the Institutes, Calvin’s commentaries are an invaluable resource for detecting his thoughts on God's eternal decrees. For example, see his comments on Genesis 27:5ff, John 6:40; 10:16; 14:7-10; Romans 8:30, 11:33-36; Ephesians 1:4-7; 3:11, etc.

  • Arguably the most well known theologian in this debate is the English Puritan William Perkins (1558-1602). He elaborated upon and popularized the work of Calvin’s successor Theodore Beza (1519-1605), as can be discerned in his famous ocular catechism A Survey of the Order of the Causes of Salvation and Damnation whereby he charts the order of the decrees along supralapsarian lines; cf. Beza’s chart, Table of Predestination (Tabula praedestinationis) which was first published in 1555 in his sometimes misunderstood Sum of the Christian Life (Summa totius christianismi). For the most accessible of Perkin’s works, see William Perkins, “A Golden Chain,” The Works of William Perkins, ed. Ian Breward (Appleford: Sutton Courtenay Press, 1970), 171-275. In the following quotations, Perkins starkly delineates double predestination: election and reprobation. “The work or action of God is either his decree, or the execution of his decree. The decree of God is that by which God in himself hath necessarily, and yet freely, from all eternity determined all things. Therefore, the Lord, according to his good pleasure, hath most certainly decreed every thing and action, whether past, present, or to come, together with their circumstances of place, time, means, and end (183)…God’s decree, inasmuch as it concerneth man, is called predestination: which is the decree of God by the which he hath ordained all men to a certain and everlasting estate, that is either to salvation or condemnation, for his own glory (185-186)…Predestination hath two parts: election and reprobation. Election is God’s decree whereby of his own freewill he hath ordained certain men to salvation, to the praise of the glory of his grace. This decree is that book of life wherein are written the names of the elect (197)…The decree of reprobation is the part of predestination whereby God according to the most free and just purpose of his will hath determined to reject certain men unto eternal destruction and misery, and that to the praise of his justice. In the scriptures, Cain and Abel, Ishmael and Isaac, Essau and Jacob are propounded unto us as types of mankind, partly elected and partly rejected” (250). Cf. idem, A Christian and Plaine Treatise of the Manner and Order of Predestination, and of the Largeness of God’s Grace (London: Printed for William Welby and Martin Clarke, 1606).

  • For an Arminian perspective on this debate, see Jacob Arminius, “Certain Articles to Be Diligently Examined and Weighed,” The Works of James Arminius, trans. James Nichols, vol. II (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1986), 717-719. Unlike the supra- and infralapsarians, Arminius (1560-1609) begins with the decree to appoint Christ as Savior and Mediator, and merely assumes the decrees of creation and the fall. His order of the decrees is as follows: 1) God decrees a general decree of redemption in Christ; 2) God decrees to receive those who repent and believe in Christ and leave under sin and wrath those who are impenitent and unbelievers; 3) God decrees the means by which salvation will be effected; and 4) based on his foreknowledge, God decrees the salvation and damnation of particular persons (718-719). For Arminius’ critique of William Perkins, see idem, “Modest Examination of Dr Perkins Pamphlet on the Mode and Order of Predestination, A Christian and Plain Treatise on the Mode and Order of Predestination, and on the Amplitude of Divine Grace,” The Works of James Arminius, trans. James Nichols and William Nichols, vol. III (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1986), 249-484.

Seventeenth Century

  • Before Westminster, perhaps the most important confessional statements on this issue are the Irish Articles (1615) and the Canons of the Synod of Dort (1618-1619). Both documents tend towards - if not explicitly state - infralapsarianism. See Irish Articles chapter 3, “Of God’s Eternal Decree and Predestination,” (esp. 3.3-5); Canons of Dordt, “First Head of Doctrine: Of Divine Predestination” (esp. Articles VII and X).

  • At Westminster, one of the most high profiled members was William Twisse (1578?-1646), the prolocutor of the Assembly and a staunch defender supralapsarianism. See William Twisse, A Treatise of Mr Cottons Clearing Certaine Doubts Concerning Predestination together with an Examination Thereof (London, 1646; reprint, Courtney, BC: Providence Publications, 1997). In this work, Twisse summarizes three basic views concerning “the object of predestination” (40): 1) massa nondum condita (mass not yet made); 2) massa pura: condita nondum corrupta (mass pure, that is made but not yet corrupt); and 3) massa corrupta (mass corrupt). He states, “Concerning the order here mentioned, though my opinion be, that the object of predestination is massa nondum condita, yet in no moment of nature, or reason, was the decree of God concerning Christ’s incarnation, and our salvation by him, before the decree of creation, and of permission of Adam’s fall, and consequently Election unto Salvation had the consideration of massa corrupta concomitant with it, though not precedent; only the consideration of massa nondum condita being antecedentall to all these decrees. Likewise, in my opinion, they do mistake, who take the Synod of Dort to maintain the consideration of massa corrupta, as precedent to Election, though they begin with signifying what God purposed to bring to pass, upon the fall of mankind, in Adam. And Calvin in his answer to Pighus confesseth, that the safest course is to treat of predestination, upon the consideration of the corrupt mass in Adam” (41).

    Twisse clearly argues for equal ultimacy in the decrees of election and reprobation: “For, let us first make the decrees of salvation and condemnation matches: As for example, Reprobation, as it is accounted the decree of condemnation, is a decree of punishing with everlasting death. Now, it you will match Election unto this, as it is the decree of salvation, it must be conceived as a decree of rewarding with everlasting life. Now let any man judge, whether this decree must not as necessarily be conjoined with the consideration of faith, repentance, and good works, in men of ripe years; as the decree of condemnation, or of punishing with everlasting death, must be conjoined with the consideration of those sins for which God purposeth to punish them. And I will further demonstrate it thus: Like as the decree of permitting some men to sin, and to continue therein to the end, and God’s decree of condemning for sin, are joint decrees, neither afore nor after other; and consequently, the decree of condemning for sin must necessarily be conjoined with the consideration of sin: In like sort, God’s decree of giving some faith, repentance, and good works, and his decree of rewarding them with everlasting life, are joint decrees, neither of them afore or after other; and consequently, God’s decree of saving them, and rewarding them with everlasting life, is joined with the consideration of faith, repentance, and good works” (112); cf. idem, The riches of Gods love unto the vessells of mercy, consistent with his absolute hatred or reprobation of the vessells of wrath… (Oxford: Printed for Tho. Robinson, 1653).

  • Mention should also be made of Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661), one of the Scottish Commissioners to the Assembly, whose supralapsarianism was often phrased in infralapsarian terms (esp. in regards to ‘reprobation’ and ‘preterition’); Samuel Rutherford, The Covenant of Life Opened: or a Treatise of the Covenant of Grace (Edinburgh: Andro. Anderson, 1655).

  • Two of the most significant theologians of the ‘high orthodoxy’ period of the seventeenth century are John Owen (1616-1683) and Francis Turretin (1623-1687). Both ably articulated the eternal decrees along infralapsarian lines. See John Owen, “The Greater Cathechism,” The Works of John Owen, ed. William H. Goold, vol. I (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 2000), 473-474. Answering the question, “What is the decree of election?” Owen states, “The eternal, free immutable purpose of God, whereby in Jesus Christ he chooseth unto himself whom he pleaseth out of whole mankind, determining to bestow upon them, for his sake, grace here, and everlasting happiness hereafter, for the praise of his glory, by way of mercy” (473). He defines reprobation as the “eternal purpose of God to suffer many to sin, leave them in their sin, and not giving them to Christ, to punish them for their sin” (474); cf. idem, “Dissertation on Divine Justice,” Works, vol. X, 481-624. For one of the most exhaustive critiques of supralapsarianism and defenses of infralapsariansim, see Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, ed. James T. Dennison, Jr., trans. George Musgrave Giger, vol. I (Phillipsburg: P & R, 1992), 311-430 (esp. 341-350; 380-394; 417-430). Turretin helpfully seeks to avoid undue speculation. For example, see his discussions on preaching the doctrine of predestination (329-331) and on the simplicity of God (430).

  • Other supralapsarians from the Reformation and post-Reformation periods include: Zanchi (1516-1590), Whitaker (1548-1595), Polanus (1561-1610), Ames (1576-1633), Gomarus (1563-1641), Voetius (1589-1676), T. Goodwin (1600-1680), Nethenus (1618-1686), and Essenius (1618-1677), etc.

  • Other infralapsarians from the Reformation and post-Reformation periods include: Peter Martyr Vermigli (1500-1562), Thomas Watson (1620-1686), Matthew Henry (1662-1714), and Thomas Boston (1676-1732), etc. (NB: I am grateful for the essays by Derek Thomas and Guy Richard for most of the individuals in the two lists above; see below under 'For Further Study.')

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