Cork Free Presbyterian Church, 10 Briarscourt (Annex) Shanakiel, Cork, Ireland Pastor: Colin Maxwell. Email: cfpc@esatclear.ie

HOW CAN GOD ORDAIN SIN AND YET NOT BE RESPONSIBLE FOR IT?

The following article [in dark blue] is by W.G.T. Shedd, a prominent 19th Century American Presbyterian theologian. Although the original article is easy enough to read, I have decided to interject the text with questions in red and so make it even easier. The following is taken (minus my imposed questions) from Calvinism: Pure and Mixed (p. 87-91) as printed by the Banner of Truth Trust. Shedd wrote these lines (which are part of a wider article) in defence of the Westminster Confession of Faith whose Calvinism was under attack from some within the Northern Presbyterian Church. Shedd stood for the old faith and in this article, he explains what is meant when Calvinists teach that there is a double predestination to holiness and sin. How can God ordain men to sin and yet hold them responsible? Is this unjust? Is it unfair? Shedd answers these questions. Also…at the bottom of the page, I have included a few very helpful words from Thomas Boston on this subject.

Those who would quibble with these thoughts must be able to tell us how God could foreordain the Cross with his "determinate counsel" and yet hold the hands that crucified His Son to be "wicked" (Acts 2:23) Here is Calvinism's answer … I have yet to meet with a better.

WHAT DOES PREDESTINATION OR FORE-ORDINATION COVER IN PAUL'S WRITINGS?

In the Pauline conception, predestination, or foreordination, covers and includes both the holiness that is to be rewarded with life, and the sin that is to be punished with death. The holiness of the elect is predestinated, and the sin of the non-elect likewise. Both alike are represented by the apostle as standing in a certain relation to the divine purpose and the divine action, and this purpose and action are designated by the one word proorise.

WHAT IF WE ONLY LIMIT PREDESTINATION TO THE FRUITS OF HOLINESS AND SIN AND NOT TO HOLINESS AND SIN THEMSELVES?

To omit both the holiness and the sin from the predestination, and retain only the recompense of each, is to mutilate the Biblical representation, and convert the divine predestination of Con. iii. 3, [of the Westminster Confession of Faith] into the divine adjudication or sentencing of Con. iii. 7. [of the Westminster Confession of Faith]

WHY NOT OMIT THE SIN AND RETAIN THE HOLINESS?

And to omit the sin but retain the holiness, as is done by those who adopt the single predestination and reject the double, though much less defective, is yet defective in omitting that element of revealed truth contained in texts like Acts 4: 27, 28; 2: 23; Luke 22: 22; Jude 4; Rom. 9: 21, et alia, whereby sin as well as holiness is taken out of the sphere of chance and brought within the divine plan. If, then, the Holy Spirit inspired St. Paul to employ the word proopise - to denote the nature of God's action both when he predestinates the elect to holiness and the non-elect to a sin like that of crucifying the Lord of glory, it becomes a most important question: What is the nature of this predestinating action of God? What does it include and what does it exclude?

WELL…WHAT DOES FOREORDINATION INCLUDE AND WHAT DOES IT EXCLUDE?

The answer is, that God's predestinating in election and preterition is his making the origin of holiness in an elect sinner, and the continuance (not origin) of sin in a non-elect sinner, a certainty in his plan of the universe, in distinction from a contingency outside of that plan springing from chance; and that it includes certainty only, and excludes necessity and compulsion.

WHAT DO THE OPPONENTS OF THE DOCTRINES OF DECREES GENERALLY ASSUME ON THIS MATTER?

Opponents of the doctrine of decrees, from the beginning, generally assume that to decree holiness or sin is to necessitate them.

HOW DO THE DEFENDERS OF THE DECREES REACT TO THIS ASSUMPTION?

The defenders of the doctrine uniformly deny this. They contend that when the divine decree relates to the action of the human will, be it holy or sinful action, there is certainty, but not compulsion. The Westminster Confession, iii. i, declares that 'God [fore] ordains whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby neither is God the author of sin; nor is violence offered to the will of the creature; nor is the liberty of second causes taken away, but rather established'.

HOW GOD EFFECTUALLY WORKS IN THE HEARTS OF ELECT SINNERS WITHOUT VIOLATING THEIR FREEDOM?

How can these things be? How, in the first place, does God make the origin and everlasting continuance of holiness in an elect sinner a certainty without compelling and necessitating his will? By the regenerating and sanctifying agency of the Holy Spirit; by 'working in the will, to will and to do of his good pleasure'. Phil. 2: 13. Scripture teaches that this operation of the Spirit does not destroy the freedom of the will. 'If the Son shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed' John 8: 36. And the report of consciousness agrees with this; for the regenerate man has no sense of being forced and unwilling in any of his experiences and exercises.

HOW DOES GOD EFFECTUALLY WORK IN THE HEARTS OF NON-ELECT SINNERS WITHOUT VIOLATING THEIR FREEDOM?

How, in the second place, does God make the everlasting continuance of sin in a non-elect sinner a certainty without compelling and necessitating his will? By letting him alone, or, in the Confessional phrase, by 'passing him by', and leaving him wholly to his own self-determination in sin?

DO ELECTION AND PRETERITION RELATE TO THE ORIGIN OF SIN?

The sublapsarian preterition, which is that of the Westminster Confession and all the Reformed creeds, supposes the fall in Adam and the existence of sin to be prior, in the order of nature, to both election and preterition. Election and preterition, consequently have reference to the continuance of sin, not to the origin of it. All men fall in Adam, without exception; so that there is no election or non-election to the fall itself, but only to deliverance from it. Both election and preterition suppose the fall, and are inexplicable without it as a presupposition. Men are elected from out of a state of sin; and men are passed by and left in a state of sin. 'They who are elected [and they who are passed by] being fallen in Adam,' etc., Con. iii. 6. Election stops the continuation of sin; preterition permits the continuance of it.

WHAT IS REQUIRED IN GOD'S PART FOR THE NON ELECT SINNER TO CONTINUE IN SIN?

The non-elect man, then, like the elect, being already in the state of sin and guilt by the free fall in Adam, nothing is requisite in order to make it certain that he will for ever remain in this state but the purpose of God not to restrain and change the action of his free will and self-will in sin by regenerating it. To denominate such merely permissive action as this, compulsion, is absurd. And yet this permissive action of God secures the certainty of everlasting sin and death in the case of the non-elect, just as infallibly as the efficient action of God secures the certainty of everlasting holiness and life in the case of the elect.

WHAT MAKES THE CERTAINTY OF SIN IN THE NON ELECT SINNER SO CERTAIN?

But in the former instance the certainty is secured wholly by the action of the sinner himself, while in the latter instance it is secured by the action of the Holy Spirit within the sinner. This leaving of the sinful will to its own movement makes endless sin an infallible certainty. For the sinner himself will and can never regenerate himself; and if God has in his sovereignty decided and purposed not to regenerate him, his willing and endless continuance in sin and death is certain. Every Christian knows that if, in his unregeneracy, he had been left wholly to his own free will, without any restraint from God, he would infallibly have gone from bad to worse for ever and ever.

TO RECAP…WHAT ARE THE TWO WAYS IN WHICH GOD MAKES THESE THINGS SURE WITHOUT VIOLATING THE WILL OF THE SINNER?

In these two ways of efficiency and permission, God 'foreordains' and makes certain two things that unquestionably 'come to pass,' namely, the everlasting holiness and life of some men, and the everlasting sin and death of some men; 'yet so as thereby God is not the author of sin; nor is violence done to the will of the creature; nor is the liberty of second causes taken away, but rather established'.

RELATE THESE THINGS TO THE SIN OF THE PEOPLE AT THE CROSS:

When God predetermined from eternity not to restrain and prevent 'Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and all the people of Israel', from crucifying his beloved Son, but to leave them to their own wicked inclination and voluntary action in the case, he made this crucifixion a certainty, but not a necessity, as is evinced by the 'woe' pronounced upon them by the Son of God. Luke 22: 22. Men with hearts and dispositions full of hatred toward the Saviour of the world, if left to themselves are infallibly certain to cry, 'Crucify him; crucify him'. 19:6-15.

WHY CALVINISTS REJECT THE IDEA OF BARE PERMISSION:

The Confession (Section 6 paragraph 1 and also in the Larger Catechism Question 19) declared that God 'permits' sin, but that it is not a 'bare permission'. (Section 5 paragraph 4) The permission that is adopted by the Assembly is one that occurs by a voluntary decision of God which he need not have made, had he so pleased. He might have decided not to permit sin; in which case it would not have entered his universe. The 'bare permission' which is rejected by the Assembly means that God makes no voluntary decision at all in the case; that he could not have prevented the fall of angels and men, but stands 'like an idle spectator', having no control over the event which he witnesses.

WHAT DID AUGUSTINE WISELY OBSERVE CONCERNING GOD'S ABILITY TO BRING GOOD OUT OF EVIL?

Augustine makes the following statement in his Enchiridion, Ch. 100: 'In a way unspeakably strange and wonderful, even what is done in opposition to God's will [of desire] does not defeat his will [of decree]. For it would not be done did he not permit it, and of course his permission is not unwilling, but willing; nor would a Good Being permit evil to be done except that in his omnipotence he can turn evil into good'.

HOW DOES AUGUSTINE'S AND CALVIN'S OBSERVATIONS APPLY TO THE CONTINUANACE OF MEN AND ANGELS IN SIN?

Calvin, adopting Augustine's phraseology, concisely marks the difference between the two permissions in the remark, that 'God's permission of sin is not involuntary, but voluntary' Inst. 1:18:3. Both Augustine and Calvin had particular reference, in this connection, to the first origin of sin in angels and men. * But their statement holds true of the continuance of sin in angels and men. When God passes by all the fallen and sinful angels, and does not regenerate and save any of them, it is by a positive voluntary decision that might have been different had he so pleased. He could have saved them. And when God passes by some fallen and sinful men and does not regenerate and save them, this also is a positive voluntary decision that might have been different had he so pleased. He could have saved them.

WHAT ARE THE IMPLICATIONS OF DENYING THESE THINGS?

To deny this option of God in either instance is to deny, first, the divine sovereignty in the exercise of mercy; and, second, the divine omnipotence in the control of creatures.

END OF ARTICLE

FOOTNOTE:

* 'The permissive decree as related to the origin of sin presents a difficulty that does not exist in reference to the continuance of sin. The certainty of the continuance of sin in fallen man is easily explained, by merely leaving the fallen will to its self-determination. But merely leaving the unfallen will to its self-determination would not make its apostasy certain; because it was endowed by creation with a power to remain holy as created, and there was no punitive withdrawal of any grace given in creation until after apostasy. How, under these circumstances a permissive decree which does not operate by direct efficiency can make the fall of a holy being certain, is an inscrutable mystery. Respecting it, Turretin (V1. vii. i) makes the following remark: 'Two extremes are to he avoided. First, that of defect, when an otiose permission of sin is ascribed to God. Second, that of excess, when the causality of sin is ascribed to him. Between these extremes, the orthodox hold the mean, who contend that the providence of God extends to sin in such way that he does not involuntarily permit it, as the Pelagians say, nor actively cause it as the Libertines assert, but voluntarily ordains and controls it'.

AN OBSERVATION FROM THOMAS BOSTON

"God's providence is most holy. "The Lord is righteous in all his ways and holy in all his works" (Psalm 145:17) Even though providence reach to and be conversant in sinful actions, yet it is pure; as the sun contracts no defilement, though it shine on a dunghill. For God is neither the physical nor moral cause of the evil of any action, more than he who rides on a lame horse is the cause of its halting. All the evil that is in sinful actions proceeds and flows from the wicked agent, as the stench of the dunghill does not proceed from the heat of the sun, but the corrupt matter contained in the dunghill." (Beauties of Boston Christian Focus Publications p316)

(A thought of my own…If we deny that Ephesians 1:11 (In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will:) extends even to sinful actions…are we going to rob ourselves also of the comfort of Romans 8:28 that God causes "all things to work together for good to them that love God" by applying it only to good actions? Is Romans 8:28 not dependent upon Ephesians 1:11?)

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