Question 3 on Theology

Francis Turretin (1623-1687) - The Most Precise Theologian of the Reformation Era

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“Every decree of God is eternal; therefore it cannot depend upon a condition which takes place only in time. (2) God’s decrees depend on his good pleasure (eudokia) (Mt. 11:26; Eph. 1:5; Rom. 9:11). Therefore they are not suspended upon any condition outside of God. (3) Every decree of God is immutable (Is. 46:10; Rom. 9:11).”

Topics in Theology

Extract from Institutes of Elenctic Theology,
Topic 1 Question 3, “Natural Theology”

Whether natural theology may be granted.
1. The question does not concern theology in general, but natural theology in particular. Nor does it concern this as it was in Adam before the fall (for that it was in him is sufficiently evident from the image of God after which he was made); rather it concerns this as it remained after the fall.

II. The question is not whether natural theology (which is such by act as soon as a man is born, as the act of life in one living or of sense in one perceiving as soon as he breathes) may be granted. For it is certain that no actual knowledge is born with us and that, in this respect, man is like a smooth tablet (tabulae rasae). Rather the question is whether such can be granted at least with regard to principle and potency; or whether such a natural faculty implanted in man may be granted as will put forth its strength of its own accord, and spontaneously in all adults endowed with reason, which embraces not only the capability of understanding, but also the natural first principles of knowledge from which conclusions both theoretical and practical are deduced (which we maintain).

III. The question is not whether this knowledge is perfect and saving (for we confess that after the entrance of sin it was so much obscured as to be rendered altogether insufficient for salvation), but only whether any knowledge of God remains in man sufficient to lead him to believe that God exists and must be religiously worshipped.

IV. Our controversy here is with the Socinians who deny the existence of any such natural theology or knowledge of God and hold that what may appear to be such has flowed partly from tradition handed down from Adam, and partly from revelations made at different times (Faustus Socinus, Praelectiones theologicae 2 1627), pp. 37; Christopher Ostorodt, Untemchtung …hauptpuncten der Christ lichen Religion 3 (1612), pp. 2328). The orthodox, on the contrary, uniformly teach that there is a natural theology, partly innate (derived from the book of conscience by means of common notions (koinos ennoias)) and partly acquired (drawn from the book of creatures discursively). And they prove it by the following arguments.

V. We find in man a natural law written upon each one’s Natural theology conscience excusing and accusing them in good and bad is proved by actions, which therefore necessarily implies the knowledge of God, the legislator, by whose authority it binds men to obedience and proposes rewards or punishments. “The Gentiles, which have not the law” (i.e., the law of Moses) “do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the meanwhile accusing or else excusing one another” (Rom. 2:14, 15). This could not be said if conscience did not dictate to each one that there is a deity who approves of good actions and disapproves and punishes evil deeds. Nor are these objections of force: (1) the work of the law and not the law itself is said to be inscribed because with the apostle these are synony-mous—“to be a law unto themselves” (v. 14) and “to have the work of the law written in their hearts” (v. 15). Also the nature of the thing proves it because such a work of the law is meant by whose instinct man not only distinguishes between good and evil, but is prompted to perform the one and avoid the other. (2) The law is not said to be innate but inscribed (i.e., known), as the law of Moses was made known to the Jews by revelation. For the inscription implies a natural revelation of that law to the conscience opposed to the external revelation made to the Jews by the writing upon stony tables. Hence it is expressed by the conscience which exerts itself both in observation (synteresei) and in consciousness (syneidesei) (v. 15).

VI. God has given to man both an innate and acquired knowledge of himself as the following passages prove: Ps. 19:1; Acts 14:1517; 17:23; Rom. 1:19, 20. Nor can the bold corruption of Socinus be tolerated who refers the words of Paul to the second creation made by Christ, as if the apostle meant to say that the things which had been invisible and unknown to men even from the creation were now clearly seen and understood by the works of God and divine men (viz., of Christ and his apostles). For the words of Paul and the entire context loudly declare that he speaks of the first creation (as he wishes to prove that the wicked against whom the wrath of God is revealed from heaven v. 18) hold the truth in unrighteousness, viz., the true notions of God contained in the natural revelation, which is shown by v. 19 where he says “that which may be known of God is manifest in them (en autois], for God hath shewed it unto them”—partly in their hearts and partly in the works of creation). (2) The design of Paul teaches the same things. He wants to demonstrate that neither the Gentiles by nature (chap. 1) nor the Jews by the law (chap. 2) could be justified (because all are sinners), but only by the gospel revealed by Christ. (3) Poiemata here cannot be applied to the miracles performed by the apostles because they are never so called in Scripture, nor were they known to the Gentiles of whom he speaks. Poi#mata refers to the works of the creation of the world because the invisible things of God are said to be made manifest in them from the creation of the world (apo ktiseos kosmou).

VII. Universal experience confirms it. For what is commonly and immutably in all men without exception must be in them naturally because natural things agree in all and are immutable. But the knowledge of the deity is immutably in all because there is no nation so barbarous upon whom this persuasion of deity does not rest (Cicero, De Natura Deorum 1.23 (Loeb, 19:61)). So that rather than have no god, they have worshipped almost anything, even t e filthy Devil himself. And none have been able to shake off this impression, the fear of God still returning (especially in adversity), although for a time they may seem to have divested themselves of it.

VIII. The institution of religions in the world most clearly proves natural theology. For whence that hidden propensity of men towards religion which induced Plato to call man the most religious animal (toon theosebestaton, Timneus 41 iLceb, 9:9091)), unless from the sense of a deity whom they ought to worship. Nor would the people have been disposed to embrace idolatry even in its most shocking forms and to receive so readily false and counterfeit religions which impostors by political contrivance devised to keep men under subjection, unless they had been impelled by some natural instinct to religion and the worship of some deity. Nor can it be said that the Gentiles did this not so much by instinct as by imitation. If there had been no natural instinct, man (a creature of glory) would never have bowed down to the most debased creatures, that he might not be thought to be destitute of any sense of deity; nor could what arises only from imitation be so common and universal.

IX. Although there may be some nations so savage as to appear to have no sense of deity, yet they are not destitute of all knowledge of him. There can indeed be barren seeds of religion lying dormant in them (on account of their gross blindness and lust) by which they seem to resemble beasts and brutes, but yet they do remain in them (as in the Americans and Brazilians adduced here by Socinus). Although Jean de Lery (of Burgundy) observes that no gods are acknowledged among them, yet he not obscurely intimates that there are traces of the deity in them, when he informs us that they have their caribs or priests whom they believe to be able to impart warlike bravery and to produce all fruits from the earth; by their supposed intercourse with spirits; and by their holding that the souls of the virtuous (after flying over lofty mountains) would lead a joyful life with perpetual delights in the most pleasant gardens, while, on the contrary, those of the wicked would be snatched way to Stigna lAygnan] (their name for the Devil) and live with him in eternal torments (History of a Voyage to the Land of Brazil 16 ed. J. Whately, 1990), p. 136). The same author in Historia Navigation!! in Brastliam 6+ (1594) narrates that the supreme being of the Mexicans is Hoizili Pochtli. Joseph Acosta (Natural and Moral History of the Indies 5.3* ed. C. R. Markham, 1880), 2:301) says that the Peruvians have their gods, and among them their Piracocha whom they call Pachacamak, creator of heaven and earth. Similar accounts occur in Girolamo Benzoni (History of the New World (trans. W.H. Smyth, 18571) and Bartolo de las Casas and others.

X. It is not repugnant that one and the same thing in a different relation should both be known by the light of nature and believed by the light of faith; as what is gathered from the one only obscurely, may be held more certainly from the other. Thus we know that God is, both from nature and from faith (Heb. 11:6); from the former obscurely, but from the latter more surely. The special knowledge of true faith (by which believers please God and have access to him, of which Paul speaks) does not exclude, but supposes the general knowledge from nature.

XI. The mind of man is a tabula rasa not absolutely, but relatively as to discusion and dianoetical knowledge (which is acquired necessarily by inferring on thing from another); but not as to apprehensive and intuitive knowledge. Ft even according to Paul, the work of the law is in such a manner written in the hearts of the Gentiles that they do by nature the things contained in the heart. Hence is a twofold inscription upon the heart of man: the one of God in the remains of his image and the natural law; the other of the Devil by sin.

XII. What is natural, subjectively and constitutively, always exists in the same manner, but not what is such qualitatively and consecutively (for qualities admit of increase and diminution). Natural theology is so called not in the first, but in the second sense. Hence it is not surprising that it should vary as to degree in relation to its subjects, who differ in intellectual acumen.

XIII. Although we do not deny that natural theology depends also upon the institution of men, yet certainly that mode would have been insufficient, if the natural knowledge of God (both innate and acquired) had not been supplied.

XIV. Although the knowledge of God is natural, it does not follow that no mortal can deny his existence. For if any have denied him, they have done sin not so much through ignorance as through perverseness, their own conscience! convicting them (as David testifies of the atheists who poured contempt upon the people of God Ps. 14:4, 51, and Paul asserts of philosophers (Rom. 1:18, 19). teaching that they held the truth (viz., the true notions of God) in unrighteous) ness). Therefore the reason for the denial was not so much an absolute ignorance of God as their corruption and wickedness choking the implanted knowledge and all but destroying it in order that they might sin more freely.

Bible Verse:

“I am Almighty God; walk before Me and be blameless,” (Gen. 17:1).

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