The Decrees of God

“…being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will”

Eph. 1:11

“Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?”

Rom. 9:21

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Subsection

Infralapsarianism & Supralapsarianism

Works Against the Roman Apologist Bellarmine  (who treated of the Decrees of God)

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Order of Contents

Predestination & Reprobation Contrasted
Articles
Book
History of the Doctrine
What does the Word ‘Sovereignty’ Mean?
On the Threefold Distinction within the Decree of God
Why We Speak of One Decree & Decrees Plural

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Predestination & Reprobation Contrasted

Quote

R.A. Finlayson, Reformed Theological Writings of R.A. Finlayson, p. 265.  Finlayson was a Free Church of Scotland professor during the mid-1900’s.

“Predestination & Reprobation Contrasted

1. The [Westminster] Confession does not teach or imply a double predestination. In an attempt to distinguish between election and reprobation we should use predestination for the elect and foreordination for the reprobate [as the Confession does].

2. Election and reprobation rest on different grounds: election on the redeeming love of God that undertakes the salvation of the lost; reprobation on the moral necessity to manifest to the universe the nature and consequences of sin in moral personality.

3. Means are used of God to fulfil the purpose of election, but God uses no means to fulfil His purpose of reprobation. It is left to sin to run its course and receive its wages.

4. The fruits of election are attributable to divine grace, the fruits of reprobation to personal sin. This means that while there is grace to some, there is injustice to none.

5. While God finds pleasure in the salvation of the elect, He has sworn by Himself that He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked. God does not need sin or its retribution for His self-manifestation, but its reality in the universe can serve that end.

6. That the elect will constitute a recreation of the race under a new Head is evident, while the reprobate are but the branches cut off from the tree of humanity. Christ will be revealed as the Savior of the world, though many are lost in the process.”

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Articles

1500’s

Calvin, John & Theodore Beza – ‘Calvin & Beza on Providence: Translations by Knox’  trans. John Knox  (1545, 1558, 1560; 2021)

These two valuable pieces on Providence by Calvin and Beza, though previously available in English, have lain in obscurity, so much so that most people likely do not know that they exist.  They originally appeared, translated by John Knox from the French and Latin respectively, in the midst of Knox’s massive treatise on predestination.  That treatise remains in old English, which is old enough and difficult enough that to many it is unreadable.

The Libertines, having such a high view of God’s eternal decree, held to what is known in philosophy as a form of Occasionalism, that all events that occur are directly and immediately worked by God.  True secondary causation is eliminated.  One main problem with this is that it makes God the Author of Sin, something that the Libertines expressly affirmed.  Calvin here not only repudiates this blasphemy, but he also lays out three ways (and only three ways) in which God brings all things to pass through his providence, herein establishing true secondary causation.

Beza provides 29 propositions on providence from his work against Sebastian Castellio, touching upon similar themes as Calvin.  Both Calvin and Beza’s pieces, while making some basic distinctions, expound the Lord’s providence in a way that is easy to grasp with illustrations from Scripture and human life.

Beza, Theodore – ‘An Excellent Treatise of Comforting Such as are Troubled about their Predestination, Taken out of the Second Answer of Mr. Beza to Dr. Andreas, in the Act of their Colloquy at Mompelgart, etc.’  4 pp.  appended to William Perkins, A Golden Chaine: or the Description of Theologie containing the order of the causes of saluation and damnation, according to Gods word. A view whereof is to be seene in the table annexed. Hereunto is adioyned the order which M. Theodore Beza vsed in comforting afflicted consciences.  (Cambridge, 1600)

Junius, Francis

’20 Theses of Dr. Francis Junius Concerning Divine Predestination’ a public disputation at Leiden in 1593 as found in The Works of James Arminius… Translated from the Latin, in 3 Volumes (Auburn & Buffalo: Derby, 1853), vol. 3, pp. 263-278  The words in italics are that of Junius; the words under those in plain font are Arminius’ commentary.

‘A Discussion on the Subject of Predestination Between James Arminius, D.D., Minister of Amsterdam, & Francis Junius, Professor of Divinity at Leiden, Conducted by Means of Letters’  in The Works of James Arminius… Translated from the Latin, in 3 Volumes (Auburn & Buffalo: Derby, 1853), pp. 7-262

Rollock, Robert – A Brief Instruction on the Eternal Approval & Disapproval of the Divine Mind  1593/4  6 pp.  trans. Charles Johnson & Travis Fentiman

Rollock, a fountain of reformed theology in Scotland, here treats of the important distinctions to be recognized within God’s decree of predestination, especially as it comes to be variously executed through time in providence.  Of special interest is his formulations relating to what would be later known as the sincere free offer of the Gospel:

“Approval without the decree belongs to all good things with respect to themselves, though they are not at any time realized, of which sort are the conversion, faith, and salvation of reprobates; which God surely approves of simply, but does not decree to come about…  1 Tim. 2:4, ‘Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.’”

Rollock’s early paradigm appears to have been influential through later reformed thought as reflections of it occur in later reformed scholastics, including in the Metaphysical Disquisitions of Samuel Rutherford at the end of his Latin treatise on Providence.  More about that may be explored on our page On God’s Revealed Will.

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1600’s

Perkins, William

A Golden Chain: or The Description of Theology, Containing the Order of the Causes of Salvation & Damnation, According to God’s Word  (Cambridge, 1600)

Ch. 3, ‘Of the Life of God’

Ch. 6, ‘Of God’s Works & his Decree’

Ch. 7, ‘Of Predestination & Creation’

Ch. 15, ‘Of Election, & of Jesus Christ the Foundation Thereof’

Ch. 35, ‘Of the Degrees of Executing God’s Decree of Election’

Ch. 36, ‘Concerning the First Degree of the Declaration of God’s Love’

Ch. 37, ‘Concerning the second degree of the declaration of God’s love’

Ch. 38, ‘Concerning the third degree of the declaration of God’s love’

Ch. 48, ‘Of the fourth degree, of the declaration of God’s love: and of the estate of the Elect, after this life’

Ch. 50, ‘Concerning the order of the causes of salvation according to the doctrine of the Church of Rome’

Ch. 52, ‘Concerning the decree of Reprobation’

Ch. 53, ‘Concerning the execution of the decree of Reprobation’

Ch. 54, ‘Concerning a New Devised Doctrine of Predestination, taught by some New and Late [Arminian] Divines’

Ch. 58, ‘Of the Application of Predestination’

Ames, William – ‘Of Predestination’  from The Marrow of Theology

Ames’ discussion is superb, especially his treatment of Reprobation.

Gomar, Francis – ‘A Disputation on God’s Predestination’  (d. 1641)  in the Works of Arminius, vol. 3 (1875), pp. 521-658  The 1875 edition of Arminius’ Works does not appear to be on the net, and this piece has not been found in the other editions of his works.

Maccovius, Johannes – ‘The Theological Disputation De Divina Hominum Praedestinatione (1643), with Johannes Maccovius Presiding & Johannes Fridericus Herbst Responding’  trans. Ryan Hurd  MAJT 30 (2019): 85-99

Turretin, Francis – Locus IV, ‘Concerning the Decrees of God in General, & Predestination in Particular’  in ed. John Beardslee,Reformed Dogmatics: J. Wollebius, G. Voetius & F. Turretin  (Oxford Univ. Press, 1965), pp. 335-459 pp.

Le Blanc, Louis – ‘On Predestination & Election’, theses 1-11, 12-20, 21-29, 30-37  in Theses Theologicae...  (London, 1683), pp. 127-32

Le Blanc (1614-1675) was French reformed professor of theology at Sedan, France.

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1800’s

Buchanan, James

The Doctrine of Natural Laws and Second Causes, p. 252, 11 pages, from his Modern Atheism, vol. 2

The Constitution of Man in its relation to the Government of God, p. 264, 18 pages, from his Modern Atheism, vol. 2

Theories of Chance and Fate, p. 303, 19 pages, from his Modern Atheism, vol. 2

Cunningham, William

God’s Providence and Man’s Sin, p. 625, 13 pp. from his Historical Theology, vol. 1

The Decrees of God & Predestination  (1863), p. 416, 73 pp.  from his Historical Theology, vol. 2

Girardeau, John

The Doctrine of Election Stated and Proved  (1890)  145 pp.  from his Calvinism & Evangelical Arminianism

The Doctrine of Reprobation Stated & Proved  17 pp.  from his Calvinism & Evangelical Arminianism

Waddell, James – ‘Re-Examination of Dr. Girardeau’s Views of the Freedom of the Will’  1880  26 pp.  from The Southern Presbyterian Review, 31.4, Oct., 1880, 690-716.  Girardeau initially wrote two articles regarding the Fall of Adam in 1879 for The Southern Presbyterian Review.  Waddell then responded with criticisms in the same journal.  In two issues of the journal in 1880 Girardeau responded to Waddell.  Here is Waddell’s response to Girardeau’s defense.

This article takes up the very interesting and somewhat complex issues regarding the nature of the decree of sin, whether it was permissive or not, and in what sense, the nature of its certainty, the relation of the decree to God’s foreknowledge, and Calvin’s interpretation of all of these things. 

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1900’s

Berkhof, Louis – ‘The Divine Decrees & Predestination’  (1949)  55 paragraphs from his Systematic Theology

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Book

Knox, John – An Answer to the Cavillations of [an Anabaptist] Adversary Respecting the Doctrine of Predestination  (1560)  in The Works of John Knox, 5:7-468

“While living in Geneva about 1558, Knox was asked by persons back in England to answer a book circulating there titled Careless by Necessity. This work, written by an Anabaptist, denied the doctrine of Predestination. Knox complied…

This work is the longest of Knox’s writings…  On Predestination is in the form of an ‘answer’, and is disputational in structure.  Knox alternately [block] quotes an assertion from his ‘Adversarie’ [in the order of the adversary’s book] immediately following it with his ‘Answer’.” – Brian L. Dole, ‘John Knox on Predestination’

See extended excerpts from this work, the font of which is otherwise difficult to read, at, Excerpts from John Knox’s Work on Predestination.

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History of the Doctrine

Medieval Church

Article

Easterday, Kevin – ‘Thomas Aquinas and His Contribution to the Doctrine of Predestination’  a seminary paper for GPTS

“This paper examines the link of the Reformed doctrine of predestination to Thomas Aquinas, as articulated in his Summa Theologica.” – Blurb

Book

Stucco, Guido – The Doctrine of Predestination in Catholic Scholasticism: Views and Perspectives from the Twelfth Century to the Renaissance  2017  154 pp.

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On the 1500’s

Sytsma, David – ‘Vermigli Replicating Aquinas: An Overlooked Continuity in the Doctrine of Predestination’  in Reformation & Renaissance Review 20, no. 2 (2018): 155-167

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On the 1500’s-1600’s

Book

Stucco, Guido – The Catholic Doctrine of Predestination from from Luther to Jansenius  2014  310 pp.

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Article

Selderhuis, Herman J. – Calvinismus Heidelbergensis: The Heidelberg Theological Faculty & the Discussions about Predestination, 1583–1622′  in Calvin Studies XII: Papers Presented at a Colloquium on Calvin Studies at Erskine Theological Seminary, Due West, South Carolina, January 27–28, 2006, pp. 55–71

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On the 1600’s

Articles

Walker, James – Ch. 2, ‘Predestination & Providence’  in The Theology and Theologians of Scotland: chiefly of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries  (1888), pp. 36-65

Denlinger, Aaron C. – ‘Swimming with the Reformed Tide: John Forbes of Corse (1593-1648) on Double Predestination & Particular Redemption’  Journal of Ecclesiastical History 66/1 (2015), pp. 67-89

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Books

Stucco, Guido – When Great Theologians Feuded  2017  360 pp.

“This is a detailed account of the XVII century clash of views between the Jesuit Leonardus Lessius and the [Romanist] Dominican Thomas Lemos concerning grace and predestination.” – Blurb

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What does the word ‘Sovereignty’ Mean?

William Shedd, Calvinism: Pure and Mixed, 1893, reprinted 1993 by Banner of Truth, pp. 70-1

“Sovereignty is a comprehensive term.  It contains several elements. 

First it denotes supremacy.  A sovereign ruler is supreme in his dominions.  All other rulers are under him. 

Secondly, sovereignty denotes independence.  Says Woolsey,

‘In the intercourse  of nations certain states have a position of entire independence of others.  They have the power of self-government, that is, of independence of all other states as far as their own territory and citizens are concerned.  This power of independent action in external and internal relations constitutes complete sovereignty.’ (Political Science, i., 204)

Thirdly, sovereignty denotes optional power; that is, the power to act or not in a given instance.  It is more particularly with reference to this latter characteristic of free alternative decision, that ‘the sovereignty of God in election’ is spoken of.  In his election of a sinner to salvation, God as supreme, independent, and sovereign, acts with entire liberty of decision, and not as obliged and shut up to one course of action.

This is the common understanding and definition of sovereignty as applied to decisions and acts.  Says Blackstone [one of the most influential writers on English law]:

‘By the sovereign power is meant the power of making laws; for wherever that power resides all other powers must conform to, and be directed by it, whatever appearance the outward form and administration of the government may put on.  For it is at any time in the option of the legislature to alter that form and administration by a new edict or rule, and put the execution of the law into whatever hands it pleases, by constituting one, or a few, or many executive magistrates.’ (Introduction, 2)

Blackstone gives the same definition of sovereignty, when it is vested in a king (Book II., ch. vii.).  The king has no superior to oblige or compel him to one course of action.  He has independent and optional power.”

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On the Threefold Distinction within the Decree of God

Article

van Mastricht, Petrus – ch. 1, sections 15-16 & 28  in Theoretical-Practical Theology  (RHB), vol. 3

Muller, Richard –

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Why We Speak of One Decree & Decrees Plural

Article

van Mastricht, Petrus – ch. 1, sections 26 & 28  of Theoretical-Practical Theology  (RHB), vol. 3

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 “God decrees [evil] for the sake of the good that he causes to arise from the sinfulness thereof; man decrees it for the sake of the evil that is in it.”

Jonathan Edwards

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Related Pages