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The Decrees of 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 the relationship of the decrees of God to God Himself, and all that he decrees to take place in the world.

Question: Are there conditional decrees? We deny against the Socinians, Remonstrants and Jesuits.

No distinction of God’s decrees is more frequently urged by the Socinians, Remonstrants and others who contend for the idol of free will, than that of the absolute and conditional. Yet none is attended with greater absurdities or has fewer claims to acceptance. The design of the Socinians and their followers on this subject is to confirm the figment of middle knowledge (scientia media), to establish election from foreseen faith and to extol the strength of the human will.

The question does not concern the absolute or conditional decree a posteriori and consequently; or with respect to the things decreed and the objects willed outside of God (whether such decrees may be granted as either have no condition and means in execution, or include something). For in this sense, we do not deny that various decrees can be called conditional because they have conditions subordinate to them (although it must be confessed that it is a less proper way of speaking because the condition ought not to be confounded with the means; and it is one thing for a thing to be decreed under a condition, but another for it to be decreed as to be brought about through such means). Rather the question concerns the decree absolute or conditional a priori and antecedently on the part of the decree itself (whether the decrees are such as are suspended upon a condition containing power and of uncertain event outside of God; or whether they are absolute, depending upon his good pleasure alone). The Socinians and others assert the former; we the latter.

The reasons are: (1) 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). Now a conditional decree is mutable because every condition is mutable (especially if not decreed by God, but placed in the free will of man-such as is meant here). Hence, the conditional decree ceasing, God would fail in his purpose and would be obliged to enter upon new counsels by a second thought (deuteras phrontidas). (4) It is repugnant to the wisdom and power of God to make such decrees as de pend upon an impossible condition (which neither will nor can be because he upon whom alone it depends does not will to grant it). If this can take place in men weak and ignorant of the future, does it not follow that it can take place in God-the most wise, omniscient and omnipotent (to whom all things are not only foreseen but also provided for)?

It is absurd for the Creator to depend upon the creature, God upon man and the will of God (the first cause of all things) upon the things them, selves. But this must be the case if the decrees of God are suspended on any condition in man.

There is no middle knowledge (scientia media) having for its object future conditional things Therefore there is no conditional decree, usually placed under it as a foundation.

Conditional decrees cannot be granted without supposing that he who decreed either was ignorant of the event or that the event was not in the power of the one decreeing or that he determined nothing certainly or absolutely concerning the event. All this, being highly derogatory to God, cannot and ought not to be ascribed to him.

Hence with great wisdom the French Synods repeatedly proscribed the conditional decrees as inefficacious acts of willing (velleitates) and deceitful and vain desires (being contrary to the wisdom, power and constancy of God).

It is one thing to maintain that God has not decreed to save anyone except through legitimate means; another that the decree to save these or those persons through legitimate means is conditional and of uncertain event (which the adversaries feign). Although faith and perseverance are related as the condition prerequisite to the decreed salvation (so that without them it ought not to be expected), yet they hold not the relation of powerful conditions to Go(Ts eternal decree of bestowing salvation upon this or that one in Christ. Indeed so far from God having decreed salvation to them under such a condition, on the contrary (by the very same decree by which he decreed salvation to them) he also decreed faith and perseverance to them and all the other means necessary for salvation.

It is one thing for the thing decreed to be conditional; another for the decree itself. The former we grant, but not the latter. There can be granted an antecedent cause or condition of the thing willed, but not immediately of the volition itself. Thus God wills salvation to have the annexed condition of faith and repentance in the execution, but faith and repentance are not the condition or cause of the act of willing in God, nor of the decree to save in the intention.

Conditional promises and threatenings do not favor conditional decrees because they do not pertain to the decreeing will, but to the preceptive will and are appendages to the divine commands, added to stimulate and excite men. So he who promises and threatens under an uncertain condition does not predict or decree what will actually happen, but only what may happen by the performance or neglect of the condition. Hence such promises and threats show only the necessary connection of the condition with the thing conditioned, but involve no futurition of the thing. Now the decrees have a categorical verity concerning the thing about to be or not about to be.

Although every hypothetical promise or threat ought to be referred mediately to some decree upon which it depends, it ought not to be a conditional, but an

absolute decree; not indeed concerning the execution of the thing itself or its certain futurition, but only concerning its infallible connection with another. For example, the gospel proposition-to save sinners if they believe-is founded upon some decree. Not indeed of the futurition of the thing (as if it decreed to give salvation to all under the condition of faith), but of the connection by which God willed indissolubly to join faith with salvation. So when Paul threatens “death to those who live after the flesh” (Rom. 8:13), it would be improper to infer that God had made a conditional decree concerning the death of all if they live according to the flesh; but only that God has joined together sin and death by the most strict connection. Thus it is true that brutes would have a sense of humor (risibiha), if they were rational. Yet no one would say from this that God conditionally decreed that brutes should have a sense of humor, if they were rational. It is sufficient for such a proposition to be founded upon a general decree by which he willed a sense of humor to be a property of reason and that reason should always be attended by a sense of humor. In the same sense, I properly infer that all sinners would be saved if they would believe-not from any conditional decree, but from this most certain general truth which God has sanctioned by his absolute decree (viz., that faith is the infallible means of salvation). For as he has appointed faith as the only way of bringing men to salvation, hence arises the truth of this hypothetical proposition-if a sinner believes he will be saved (which denotes only the certainty of consequence, but does not involve the positing of the consequent).

The counsel which the Pharisees are said to have rejected against themselves (Lk. 7:30) does not denote any conditional decree concerning saving the Pharisees under the condition of faith and repentance, but the will of command (viz., the testimony of John concerning Christ by which God gave counsel to them about the mode of obtaining eternal salvation, as the word “counsel’ is used in Ps. 107:11; Prov. 1:25, 30; Rev. 3:18 and elsewhere).

In 1 Sam. 2:30 (“I said indeed that thy house and the house of thy father, should walk before me forever; but now the Lord saith, Be it far from me”) and 1 S. 13:13 (“If thou hadst kept the commandment of the Lord thy God, he would have established thy kingdom forever), the promise was made to Saul on the supposition of his obedience (which was not founded upon any conditional decree concerning a thing which neither ever was, nor would be, but only upon the connection established by God between piety and life).

The various passages of Scripture which speak of future things, this or that condition being fulfilled (such as Gen. 20:7; 2 S. 17:1-3 with v. 14; 24:13; jet. 16:31 4; 17:24-26; 38:17, 18; 42:9, 10), do not favor any conditional decrees, but only denote various promises and threats. Indeed they show the certainty of the connection of one with the other: for example, of obedience and preservation and salvation, of rebellion and destruction. But they do not show the futurition of the event either absolute or conditional or what God has particularly decreed concerning these or those things. Therefore this is the more true, that since God (who has all things in his own power) knows that such a condition will never take place (since he himself has not decreed it), he cannot be said to have decreed anything under that condition. For nothing can be conceived more absurd than to maintain that God decrees something under a condition which at the very moment of decreeing he knows never will take place.

Although the decrees (on the part of the objects) often include some condition, they do not cease to be absolute formally and in themselves because the condition and the thing conditioned depend immutably upon God, either as to permission (as in evil) or as to effecting (as in good things).

So far is God from changing his decrees to suit the changes of men, that on the contrary every change of human acts proceeds from the eternal and irrevocable decree of God (who in this way brings to pass what he had decreed should take place through promises and threats). Nor does he change his former opinion by the prayers of the pious, but by those very prayers accomplishes what he had determined should come to pass. Thus when God changes what he has made, when he takes away from man the life he has given, when he destroyed the world he had created, the change is in the things, not in God. For from eternity, he decreed to make the change and unless he did so, the decree to make the change would be changed.

The passage in Num. 14:30, where God protests by Moses that the Israelites should not enter the land (which he had promised them by a solemn oath) teaches indeed that the solemn promise was made to that people by God of introducing them into the land of Canaan, but under the condition of their obedience (which ceasing, the promise and the contract also ceased). But it does not argue that there was a conditional decree concerning their introduction. Indeed as he had decreed to make such a promise, so for his own reasons he determined to permit their contumacy and not to introduce an individual of that generation into the Promised Land. Again, as the promise had been made to the nation in general, it was not necessary that it should refer to each individual in it and be fulfilled in them. It was sufficient for it to apply to those who belonged to the fol. lowing generation in whom it should be fulfilled.

Although the relative properties of God (such as mercy and justice) suppose for their exercise in the objects about which they are occupied, some quality (as for instance misery and sin), it does not follow thence that the decree made concerning the salvation or condemnation of men is conditional. For although it is supposed in order to its formation, still it is not suspended on it, but will be most certainly and infallibly fulfilled according to the good pleasure of God.

Whatever is said against conditional decrees applies equally to the hypothetical will because there can be no act of will concerning future things out of itself which does not involve the notion of a decree. Hence they cannot escape who, while omitting the expression conditional decree, still retain the hypothetical will; for they mean the same thing, the name only being changed.

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