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Topic 3 Question 1 on God

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).”

The Scholastic Reformer Explains God Against Atheism

Extract from Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Volume 1 Published by P&R Publishing
Topic 3 Question 1, “The One and Triune God”

Topic 3 Question 1
Can the existence of God be irrefutably demonstrated against atheists! We affirm.

1. Although the “Deity is unbounded and incomprehensible” as Damascene well remarks (Exposition of the Orthodox Faith 1.4 INPNF2, 9:4; PG 94.797]); and to speak the truth concerning God is even dangerous on account of his exalted “preeminence (hyperochen),” as Cyprian says; yet because God has condescended to reveal himself to us both in nature and in the Scriptures (and it is incumbent upon the one who approaches God to believe that he is and is a rewarder of those who seek him, Heb. 11:6), the discussion concerning God holds the first place in theology and embraces the sum of all saving knowledge. We are to learn so that with fear and trembling (searching into what the Lord has revealed) we may not rashly pry into the secrets which he has reserved to himself alone—”lest being unlawfully curious in the latter, we may be found worthy of just condemnation in the former,” as Prosper says (Call of the Nations 1.21* [ACW 14:68; PL 51.6741).
6. The subject admits of a threefold division. First, that we may know that he is (with respect to existence) against the atheist. Second, that we may know what he is (with respect to his nature and attributes) against the heathen. Third, that we may know who he is (with respect to the persons) against the Jews and heretics. The former two relate to God considered essentially (ousiados); the latter relate to him regarded hypostatically (hypostatikos) and personally.

2. Although that there is a God is an indubitable first principle of religion (rather to be taken for granted than proved, so that they who doubt it are to be punished and not disputed with, as Aristotle says), yet the execrable madness of modem atheists (of whom this most corrupt age is far too fruitful, who do not blush impiously to deny this clearest truth) renders this question necessary.

3. The question is not whether the true and saving knowledge of God obtains everywhere among men. For no one can deny that the true God was and is even now unknown by many nations, who are therefore called atheists by the apostle (Eph. 2:12). Rather the question is whether such a knowledge of the deity is implanted in men by nature, that no one can be wholly ignorant of him; or whether the existence of God can be demonstrated by unanswerable arguments, not only from the Scriptures, but also from nature herself. Profane men and atheists unscrupulously deny this; we assert it.

4. The demonstration of deity rests upon four foundations principally: (1) the voice of universal nature; (2) the contemplation of man himself; (3) the testimony of conscience; (4) the consent of all mankind. For God, the wonderful artificer of the universe, has so deeply stamped upon all its parts the impression of his majesty that what was commonly said of the shield of Minerva (into which Phidias had so skillfully introduced his likeness that it could not be taken out without loosening the whole work) has a far juster application here. God cannot be wrested from nature without totally confusing and destroying it.

5. Nature proves the being of God since she proclaims that she not only is, but is from another and could not be without another. For if it is certain and indubitable that out of nothing, nothing is made and that nothing can be the cause of itself (for then it would be before and after itself), it is also certain that we must grant some first and unproduced being from whom all things are, but who is himself from no one. For if every being is produced, it is produced either by itself or by some other; not by itself because (as was just said) nothing can be the cause of itself; not by another because then it would follow that there could be an infinite series in producing causes or that a circle would be made, both of which are untenable. For as to the circle, it evidently cannot be granted since in those things which are made there is always a last thing which has not made anything else. Besides such a circle is impossible; for suppose it were true, it would follow that the same thing was made by itself and was the cause (mediately at least) of itself. Nothing would be more absurd. Neither can an infinite series of producing causes be allowed because in causes there must necessarily be some order as to prior and posterior. But an infinite series of producing causes rejects all order, for then no cause would be first; rather all would be middle, having some preceding cause. Indeed there would be no cause which ought not to have infinite superior causes before itself (which is impossible). If there were infinite causes before each and every cause, before the whole multitude and collection of causes there would be infinite causes and thus that collection would not be total. Again, if the first cause can never be reached by ascending from the effects to the cause, so the ultimate effect can never be arrived at by descending from the causes to the effects. For the infinite can be gone through no more by ascending than by descending. Therefore we must necessarily stop in some cause which is so the first as to recognize no superior. Thus that series of causes ought not to be in infinitum, but ad infinitum in which it will be terminated.

6. (2) The newness of the world with the commencement of motion and of time proves the necessary existence of God. For if the world began, it must necessarily have received its beginning from someone. Inasmuch as it could not be from itself, it could be from no other than God. Now there are many proofs that the world had a beginning and is not eternal. Time could not be from eternity. If so, then from eternity there must have been the vicissitude of day and night which is impossible. It is inconsistent that day and night have been from eternity since they would either have been at the same time (which implies a contradiction) or successively (which destroys the eternity). Again, if time is eternal, there could not have been a first day, for if there were, time had a beginning. If there were no first day, a day preceded every day (i.e., there was a day before there was a day). Third, if time is eternal, there were infinite years, infinite months, days and hours. But the number of months, years and days will either be equal or not. If equal, it would follow that a part is equal to the whole, and the whole is not greater than its part. If unequal, there will be made a greater and lesser in an infinity. Fourth, either no day was from eternity, or every day, or only some one. If the former, time is not eternal; experience teaches the falsity of the second; the third cannot be said because if some one day was from eternity, its duration ought to be infinite and without a beginning (which implies a contradiction) since its duration would be terminated in twenty-four hours. Fifth, all motion is with succession (including priority and posteriority) which is repugnant to eternity. Sixth, if the sun revolved and illuminated the world from eternity that was done either with respect to our hemisphere, or exactly the opposite, or with respect to both at the same time. The former cannot be said because what is successive cannot be called eternal; not the latter because it is impossible for the sun to illuminate both hemispheres at the same time. For it would have to be in many places at the same time and everywhere would be day and there would be no such thing as night.
7. If men were from eternity, there would be granted infinite generations succeeding each other, and the number of men who have lived thus far would be infinite. But there can be no such thing as an infinite series in generations (as we said before), nor can the number of men who have thus far lived be infinite, since it is increased every day. Nothing can be added to that which is infinite! Again either some one man was from eternity or no one. If no man, then men are not from eternity and were not created by God. If some man was, he could not have been created by another, since what is produced by another is after it and what is eternal recognizes nothing before itself.

8. To no purpose do atheists (in order to prove the possibility of an infinite series) bring forward the consideration of posterior eternity. For by descending into the eternity without end, there is granted a first, though not a last, and the last can never be arrived at; so by ascending into anterior eternity, there is granted a last, though not a first. Two things entirely dissimilar are here brought together; that which was and has really passed and that which never will be nor come to pass. For the duration of past time, and the succession of men who have lived thus far, was and no more is; but the duration of futurity and of the men who will live in it is such that it can never be said to have passed by. Finally, there may be the beginning of a thing without end (as in the duration of angels and of souls), but there cannot be an end without a beginning because an end necessarily supposes some beginning from which the thing had its origin. Hence the consequence does not follow. If in posterior eternity there can be granted a duration which had a beginning and will not have an end, then in anterior eternity there can be granted a duration which may have an end and yet never had a beginning.

9. (3) The wonderful beauty and order of the universe is From the beauty another proof. For if order requires wisdom and intelligence, the most perfect supposes the most perfectly necessary and infinite wisdom which we call God, Now he is blind who does not see the most beautiful order everywhere and most wicked who does not acknowledge it. There is so suitable a disposition of parts, so constant a concord of things so discordant, so harmonious an agreement and consent of creatures the most diverse, so swift and at the same time equable motion of the heavenly bodies and so immutable a stability and constancy of the order once established. So not only do the heavens declare the glory of God, but every blade of grass and flower in the field, every pebble on the shore and every shell in the ocean proclaim not only his power and goodness, but also his manifold (poly poikilon) wisdom, so near each one that even by feeling, God can be found. Augustine says, “The prophetic voices excepted, the world itself by its own most regular mutability and mobility and the exquisitely beautiful appearance of all visible things, silently as it were proclaims both that it was made and could be made only by a God unspeakably and invisibly great, and unspeakably and invisibly beautiful” (CG 11.4 [FC 14:191; PL 41.319)).

10. You may say perhaps that these things were so arranged by chance and by a fortuitous concourse of atoms. But I know not whether such an impious and absurd opinion is worthy of refutation, since these things denote not chance, but the highest art. For things which come by chance are uncertain and ill arranged and have nothing constant and similar; but nothing can be conceived more regular and composed than this universal frame. To say, then, that this most beautiful and highly decorated universe was produced by a fortuitous concourse of atoms is the same as to say that “if innumerable forms of the one and twenty letters were thrown together, the annals of Ennius could be produced from them when shaken upon the earth and could afterwards be read” (as Cicero remarks, De Nature Deorum 2.37.93 |Loeb, 19:21213)). In the same place, he quotes from Aristotle: “If there were persons who had always lived under the earth in good and splendid habitation and yet had never come out upon its surface, but had heard that there was a deity and a power of the gods; then upon some occasion the jaws of the earth being opened they could come out and walk abroad in these places where we now live; when suddenly they would see the earth, and sea and the heavens, and behold the sun, and know both its admirable magnitude and virtue, and contemplate the whole sky bespangled with stars, their rising and setting, their regulated and immutable eternal motion; when they saw these things they would assuredly think both that there were gods, and that these so magnificent works were theirs” (ibid., 2.37.95, pp. 21415).

11. (4) The tendency of all things toward an end con firms this. For since all natural beings act for the sake of some end (which they always certainly and infallibly pursue), they must necessarily be directed by the design of some ruler. Inasmuch as nature does nothing vain, if it acts for the sake of some end, it must either itself know and seek that end or if it does not know or seek it, be directed to it by another. Now since among natural things there are many incapable of forming plans (because they are either inanimate or devoid of reason), they need some external counsel to direct them. Now that external counsel can be attributed to no other than the author and ruler of nature. Nor can it be said that nature herself is in single things by whose counsel they are directed to their ends, for nature will be the natural property and particular single nature of each thing. But how can that be capable of counsel if the things themselves are brutes (or certain common nature collected from the nature of single things)? But a common nature is not beyond the single natures or some intelligent and subsisting substance by whose counsel all things are directed. But this is to make a god of nature and with the denial of God, to recognize him under the name of nature, according to the Philosopher who says a “work of nature is the work of an unerring intelligence.”

12. (5) Man himself has in his own breast a familiar teacher of this very truth. If he would withdraw his attention from all things and reflect upon himself, he would recognize no less wisdom in the little world than in the great, and admire in his body a visible (and in his mind a scintillating) divinity. For whence is the body constructed with such wonderful and truly stupendous skill? Whence so many different members created together by a mutual interweaving and so fitly disposed to their peculiar offices, unless from an immense spirit? Whence the mind, a particle of the divine breath, possessed of so many faculties, furnished with so many gifts, unless from a supreme intelligence? This image clearly bespeaks its prototype, and everyone who pays attention will not only hear and see God present in himself, but also in a manner touch and feel him.

13. (6) This is especially taught by this power and From stimulus of conscience (the inseparable attendant of crime either begun or finished) whose sense can neither be blunted, nor accusation escaped, nor testimony corrupted; nor can it fail to appear on the appointed day, nor its tribunal be shunned. For how comes it that the conscience is tormented after a crime committed (even in secret and with remote judges), where no danger threatened from men (even in those who held supreme power) unless because it is affected by a most intimate sense of deity (as appears from the case of Nero, Caligula and others)?
But why should you suppose that a man escapes punishment whose mind is ever kept in terror by the consciousness of an evil deed which lashes him with unheard blows, his own soul ever shaking over him the unseen whip of torture? —Juvenal, The Satires of Juvenal 13.19295 (Loeb, 26061) As each man’s conscience is, so doth it, for his deeds, conceive within his breast or hope or fear. Ovid, Fasti 1.48586 (Loeb, 5:3637) Whence those terrors of conscience, trembling at more atrocious wickedness, unless from the sense of some avenger and judge whom, not seeing, it everywhere feels? For these terrors cannot arise from any fear of civil laws or any temporal punishment or disgrace—both because these are only feared in the case of open crimes (which alone the civil laws and in accordance with them the judges can punish), and because they affect those also who recognize no superior on earth and who therefore can be judged by no one. Otherwise how does it come about that when an unforeseen danger assails or a sudden fear arises, they who appeared to have wholly divested their minds of the sense of deity, tremble at an angry God and implore his aid with ejaculatory prayers and groans? But what makes them so terribly afraid, who are either profane in secret and in their mind only deny that there is a God? You may say perhaps it is a vain fear; but if vain, whence is it? Why is it so tenacious and inexpugnable even when there is no cause for fear? Who or what is feared by him who alone is conscious of his own thoughts, who is confident that there is no arbiter or witness or judge of them? Himself? But he is his own best friend. Others? But they do not know his thoughts or intentions. Then if they wish to be safe, they prove by their mouth what they deny in their heart. Why then ate they not secure? Therefore, willing or unwilling, they must believe that there is a God whom right reason itself teaches them to fear and orders them to recognize as the Lord and Judge of all.

14. Nor can it be objected that Paul says that men sometimes arrive at such a height of wickedness as to render themselves without feeling (Eph. 4:19), i.e., free from all the pain which conscience otherwise usually produces; yea to such a pitch as to have their consciences cauterized therefore destitute of all sense and remorse (as the same apostle says, 1 Tim. 4:2). For this indeed indicates the attempt and desire of such wicked men (and the effect of that attempt which may appear externally) when they show to others a bold confidence and a mind confirmed in wickedness, as if they were pressed by no sense of guilt or torture of conscience; but it does not show what their minds are internally. For this does not appear, this they can dissimulate in public. If they are regarded externally, they are without sense, without pain, indeed they openly declare the absence of it. But if we could look within, we would find their minds restless and pierced with the sharpest thorns. Yet I do not mean to deny that by a habit of sinning their consciences may be made so callous that occasionally and for a time they may seem to have lost all sense of sin and may not feel or care for the goads of conscience (especially in prosperity, when their powers are unimpaired, health is strong and public approbation is present). But it cannot be said that they have lost all sense entirely. Conscience slumbers, but is not dead; it is intoxicated from the flesh, but not extinct. Otherwise, how could Paul say, “Men having not the law, are a law unto themselves, and show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the meanwhile [thereupon and at intervals) accusing, or else excusing one another” (Rom. 2:14, 15) in good or bad action.

15. (7) Another argument is the constant and perpetual From the consent sense and consent of all men. For although they may have of mankind. entertained different notions concerning the nature and number of the deity and the reason and method of worshipping him, they erred for the most part most wickedly. Still in so great a variety there was this uniform agreement in the belief that there is some deity who ought to be religiously worshipped. “There is no nation,” says Cicero, “so intractable and fierce, although it may be ignorant what a God it should have, yet is not ignorant that one should be had” (Laws 1.8.24 [Loeb, 16:32425)). Indeed so deeply has this notion struck its roots in the minds of men that men would rather believe there is a god than that there is none and preferred to have a false god than no god. Hence it happened that they would rather worship stones and stocks and even the vilest things than be without some deity (which never could have been done by man naturally proud unless he possessed the strongest impression of a divinity). If some monsters have existed, who by gigantic efforts have proclaimed war against their own nature in denying a God (as the psalmist testifies, “the fool says in his heart there is no god,” 14:1), besides the fact that this is to be understood rather of practical than theoretical atheists (as will be hereafter proved), they ought not to be opposed to the common and general consent of all. Nor should the furious attempts of those who strive to stifle this knowledge and even die in their obstinacy prejudice the universal judgment of all the rest which (diffused everywhere throughout all parts of the world) has most constantly continued through so many ages. No more than the monsters and prodigies which are sometimes seen contrary to nature can overturn the regular laws established by God; or the instances of insanity overturn the definition of man as a rational animal.

16. Since then this constant and universal agreement of all men concerning this primary truth can either have arisen not from a simple desire (which in many would tend to a removal of a deity to be feared on account of their crimes than to an acknowledgment of one), nor be founded on state policy or ancestral tradition (which could never be so efficacious as to produce a general consent in the minds of all), it follows necessarily that it took its rise from the evidence of the thing itself. It is so great that no one possessed of a sound mind can be ignorant of it. It is evident from the most intimate sense of deity, impressed by God upon each one, so as to deprive them of the pretext of ignorance. Since all to a man may understand that there is a God and that he is his maker, they are condemned by their own testimony for not worshipping him. Here pertain those words of Iamblicus, “Before all use of reason a notion of the gods is naturally implanted in men, yea a certain tact of divinity better than knowledge” (De Mysteriis Aegyptiorum [1972], p. 1). This is the knowledge of God which he wished to manifest in the Gentiles (Rom. 1:19). Damascene explains this: “The knowledge of the existence of God is naturally impressed upon all men by himself” (Exposition of the Orthodox Faith 1.1 (NPNF2, 9:1; PG 94 789)).

17. It makes little difference whether we explain this sense by a natural knowledge of God implanted, or a common notion, or a conception of the mind, or (as more recently) by the idea of God as the most perfect being impressed upon our minds. These all come to the same thing, viz., that there is implanted in each one from his birth a sense of deity which does not allow itself to be concealed and which spontaneously exerts itself in all adults of sound mind. Only let us observe that the idea of God can with less propriety be said to be impressed upon us, if by it is meant a certain intelligible species and image of God in our minds representing to us clearly and distinctly the whatness (quidditatem) and essence of God (which both his infinite majesty rejects and our finite and weak intelligence cannot take in). For how could either an (in any way) adequate or a clear and distinct image of an infinite being exist in a finite mind? Nor (if it may be held as certain from the common notion and instinct of conscience that there is a God) does it follow that by a clear and distinct conception (such as the idea of which we speak is supposed to be) we can ascertain immediately who and what he is. Besides it is certain that a clear and distinct idea of God (if there is any such in us) comes not from nature (darkened and blinded as it is by sin), but from the supernatural revelation of the word, in which he has clearly manifested himself to us (although this very knowledge in relation to that of glory is only specular and enigmatical, i.e., as yet imperfect and very obscure).

18. Many other arguments might be adduced to confirm this truth: from the prophecies of contingent future events (which could not be foretold long before their accomplishment unless by an omniscient mind); from the heroic actions of illustrious men (which could not be thought to be done without a divine influence); from the changes and overthrow of empires (which the thing itself declares happened by the finger of God); from the public judgments and punishment of crimes inflicted by an avenging nemesis; and from the miracles surpassing the power of all nature. For as it can do nothing beyond its power (and not only the Scriptures record, but both Jews and Gentiles confess that many miracles have often been wrought in the world), we must necessarily suppose a most perfect being, greater and more excellent than all nature, to whose power they must be ascribed (who can be no other than God).

19. Now these and the like arguments (drawn from the contemplation of the divine works and the inmost recesses of nature), which are sufficient to cover with confusion these impious fighters against God, are more clearly confirmed by the testimony of the irrefragable word which (since it bears on its front the conspicuous marks of its own divinity, as we have seen before, and everywhere declares its author to be God) has inscribed this persuasion upon the minds of believers in indelible character.

21. To these arguments ad hominem might also be added those of sufficient force to move even the atheist to believe in deity, if not for the sake of vindicating God himself and religion, at least for his own sake and profit. For if there were no God, no republic, no society in the world would be safe. Without virtue, without religion, nothing can be safe. If there were no God, there would be neither virtue nor religion. What would the world be but a mere den of robbers in which license would be each one’s law, no such thing as right or wrong, no right of government, no necessity of obedience—the most abandoned, the superior and the most powerful, the master? No check would be placed upon the oppression of rulers and the rebellion of subjects. Each one would follow the bent of his own inclination. Again, if there were no God, no mortals would even for a moment be safe or secure from violence, fraud, perjury, slaughter of blood. Every hour everything would have to be feared. Take away the barriers of divinity and what would become of confidence and innocence? What license or violence would not be witnessed? As to human edicts (besides the fact that they cannot change the mind for the better, but on the contrary make it artful and intent upon all the arts of deception), what place would there be for human laws, if (the sense of deity being removed) the conscience would shake off all relations of justice and injustice?

22. Although God is not manifest to the senses com prehensively as he is in himself, yet he can be perceived, apprehensively as shining in his works, appearing in signs, heard in the word and manifested in the fabric of the whole universe. (2) It is a false assumption that there is nothing in the intellect which was not before in some sense. For universals are in the intellect and never were in any sense. A mind is known as also an angel, yet they are never perceived or seen except from their effects. Why therefore may not God be most certainly known in the mind from his works and a posteriori, although we cannot perceive him with our eyes or any of the other bodily senses?

23. It is one thing to acknowledge that there is an apparent confusion and disorder in the universe as to us (which we do); another, that there is a true and real confusion and disorder on the part of God (which we deny). For what to us may appear disordered, with God may be perfectly arranged.

24. Although various things in the world seem to be useless, many indeed hurtful and dangerous, tending to its own destruction and the extreme misery of the human race (such as dreadful and volcanic mountains overwhelming by a perpetual eruption of flames and ashes fields, villages, cities and entire regions with men and other animals indiscriminately; whirlpools, shipwrecking rocks, poisonous herbs, noxious animals and other things of the kind), it does not follow that the world was not created and is not now directed by some perfectly good and wise being. Besides the fact that the glory of the Creator is most strikingly exhibited by all these, yet there is nothing so useless and apparently hurtful as not to be conducive in various ways both to man and other creatures. Nor (if we cannot ascertain the various uses of these things) does it follow that they have none.

25. The prosperity of the wicked and the adversity of the pious exhibit a most wise dispensation which converts all these to its own glory and the salvation of the pious. But this ought not to weaken our faith in deity. Indeed they confirm the truth of a final judgment after this life where each one will receive a reward according to his faith and works.
26. Infinite goodness docs not immediately take away all evils if it is a perfectly free and not a necessary agent. It judges that the permission of evil for the purpose of extracting good from it pertains more to its wisdom and omnipotence than the not permitting the existence of evil.

27. When God is said to be from himself, this must be understood negatively (because he is from no one, since he is selfliving and selfexistent) rather than positively, as if he were the cause of himself (implying a contradiction) because he would then be before and after himself.

28. It is one thing to use religion and the sense of deity to coerce people to obedience and preserve them in duty; another to impose upon them such a persuasion of deity, although false. I confess indeed that legislators have done the former and cunning men have contrived many things in religion for the purpose of inspiring the common people with reverence and striking them with terror, so that they might keep their minds under greater subjection. But they never could have succeeded in that unless the minds of men had been imbued before with such a constant persuasion of deity that the propensity to religion burst forth from it as from a seed. Finally, who can believe that by the power or cunning of a few that constant opinion could be diffused through all parts of the world and through all ages, bringing so much terror to conscience even in the most secret crimes? Who does not see that if the persuasion of a divinity is due to the authority of laws and the fear of punishment, it would last no longer than the continuance of the yoke of slavery? On the contrary, we know in fact that it has pervaded all men, even the most free and those not bound by the chains of the law.

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