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Temporary Disciples

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 why some people fall away.

XI. If the temporary are sometimes called “disciples of Christ” and “sons of God,” “faithful” and “believers,” it is either according to opinion (kata doxan) (because they seem to be such in the opinion of others) and out of the judgment of charity (because by a profession of faith and reception of the sacra­ments, they mingle in the public society of the church); but not according to the truth of the thing. Hence Augustine says, “Certain persons are sons of God to God, who are not such to us, and there are certain others, who on account of grace received even temporarily, are called by us sons of God and yet are not such in the sight of God” (Admonition and Grace 9 [20] [FC 2:269; PL 44.928]).

XII. Faith is not true because it perseveres, but it perseveres because it is true. Thus perseverance is not the cause of the verity of faith, but the consequent and the effect—for because it has solidity and a deep root in the heart, on this ac­count it is constant and perpetually endures. As from lightness arises liability to fall, so from solidity arises stability. For although duration does not properly con­stitute the essence of a thing, still it so follows it that from it a judgment can well be formed concerning the truth of a thing a posteriori. Duration is an index of truth, as truth is the principle of duration.

XIII. Nothing is said of the temporary (Mt. 13) which proves that their faith agrees in kind with justifying faith and differs only in degree. Not that “they hear the word, and immediately receive it with joy” because that reception is into the mind, not into the heart (as seed falling upon stony places is received indeed upon the upper surface of the earth, but does not penetrate farther). And the joy with which it is received is not solid and true, arising from a fiducial sense of God’s grace, but from perishable things (to wit, the novelty and pleasantness of the doctrine or even the hope of earthly advantage). Not that “the seed springs up” (although it did not come to maturity) because that superficial germination as it takes place in a different kind of ground, so it ought to differ specifically from the intimate and true, which brings forth good fruit. Not that “they do cer­tain good works,” as is said of the Israelites that they seek God and are pleased with the knowledge of his ways (Is. 58:2); of the Jews, who exulted in the light of John the Baptist (Jn. 5:35); of Herod, that he did many things after hearing him (Mk. 6:20). These are no other than external good works (as to the substance of a work and moral virtue), but not truly such as to the truth of the thing and the manner according to which they ought to be done.

XIV. Heb. 6:4-6 does not prove that the apostates were true believers and that their faith was the same in kind as justifying faith. (1) The apostle speaks hypo-thetically, not absolutely; for to parapesontas is the same as if he had said “if they shall fall away” (ean parapesosi). From the hypothetical to the absolute the conse­quence does not hold good, unless the condition be posited. Nor did the apostle threaten to no purpose because by such conditional threatenings God prevents the renewed from falling, frightening them by the fickleness of the apostate and exciting them to the desire of perseverance. And although the condition on God’s part and as to the event is impossible, it would be very possible on the part of man left to himself. (2) Whatever is ascribed to them can be predicated of the unrenewed and reprobate, who can “be made partakers of the Holy Spirit” (if not as to the fundamental and saving gifts of conversion and consolation, still as to the initial gifts of illumination and conviction or even as to extraordinary, mirac­ulous and ministerial gifts). They can be illuminated and have a knowledge of the truth, if not a practical and consoling, yet a theoretical and constraining. They can “taste the good word of God” with an outward and labial, but not an inner and radical taste. They can “taste the powers of the world to come,” not so much by hope and joy (which are the first fruits of heavenly glory) as with respect to miracles (which are often termed powers and which were usually per­formed in the primitive church, which is called the future age, “the world to come” [as in Heb. 2:5] because it was such in the time of the fathers of the Old Testament). They can “taste the heavenly gift” as to a participation of faith, if not saving, still true in its kind and which could be obtained only from heaven. (3) These things are ascribed to them rather sacramentally and extrinsically (as to a profession of the truth and the reception of baptism), than spiritually and in­ternally (as to the reception of faith without hypocrisy [anypokritou], which is the gift without repentance [ametameleton] of the elect).

XV. Although the faith of the temporary is true in its own order because it truly receives the seed with joy and is not feigned by those who thus believe, who not only think they believe, but really and truly believe (hence they are even said “to believe,” ]n. 2:23; Lk. 8:13), still it is not a true and living justifying faith, in which sense it is even called hypocritical because it is emulous of the faith of the elect and has an external resemblance to it (although destitute of its truth); and so great is its similarity to it often that a greater is not seen between an image and its prototype. Hence not only others who see them are easily deceived by them, but the believers themselves also are deceived and impose upon them­selves; not feigning, but believing that they are truly believers (God alone, who searches the innermost recesses of the heart, knowing the truth). Still it is cer­tain that there is a manifold and most essential difference (as was said before) which shows that they mutually differ not only in degree or duration, but in very kind and nature.

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