Chapter 6 - Of God’s Works, and His DecreeThe Order of Salvation and Damnation by William Perkins (1558-1602)
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Election is God’s decree “whereby on his own free will, he hath ordained certain men to salvation, to the praise of the glory of his grace.” Reprobation is “that part of predestination, whereby God, according to the most free and just purpose of his will, hath determined to reject certain men unto eternal destruction, and misery, and that to the praise of his justice.”
Thus far concerning the first part of Theology: the second followeth, of the works of God.
The works of God, are all those, which He doth out of Himself, that is, out of His divine essence.
These are common to the Trinity, the peculiar manner of working always reserved to every person.
The end of all these, is the manifestation of the glory of God. Rom. 11:36, “For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.”
The work, or action of God, is either His decree, or the execution of His decree.
The decree of God, is that by which God in Himself, hath necessarily, and yet freely, from all eternity determined all things. Eph. 1:11, “In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.” Matt. 10:20, “For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you.” Rom. 9:21, “Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?”
Therefore the Lord, according pleasure, hath most certainly decreed every thing and action, whether past, present, or to come, together with their circumstances of place, time, means and end.
Yea, He hath most justly decreed the wicked works of the wicked. For if He had nilled that they should never have been at all. And albeit they of their own nature, are and remain wicked; yet in respect of God’s decree, they are some ways good: for there is not anything absolutely evil. 1 Peter 3:17, “For it is better, if the will of God be so, that ye suffer for well doing, than for evil doing.”
The things which in its own nature is evil, in God’s eternal counsel is respectively good, in that it is some occasion and way to manifest the glory of God in His justice, and is mercy.
God’s foreknowledge, is conjoined with His decree, and indeed is in nature before it: yet not in regard of God, but us: because knowledge goeth before the will and the effecting of a work. For we do nothing, but those things that we have before willed, neither do we will anything which we know not before.
God’s foreknowledge in itself, is not a cause why things are, but as it is conjoined with His decree. For things do not therefore come to pass, because that God did not foreknow them; but because he decreed and willed them, therefore they come to pass.
The execution of God’s decree is that, buy which all things in their time are accomplished which were foreknown or decreed.
The same decree of God, is the first and principal working cause of all things, which also is on order, and time before all other causes. For with God’s decree is always His will annexed, by the which He can will that which He hath decreed. And it were a sign of impotency, to decree anything which He could not will. And with God’s will is conjoined an effectual power, by which the Lord can bring to pass, whatsoever he hath freely decreed.
The first and principal cause, howbeit in itself it be necessary, yet it doth not take away freedom of will in elect; or the nature and property of second causes; but only brings them into a certain order; that is, it directeth them to the determined end; whereupon the effects and events of things are contingent or necessary, as the nature of the second cause is. So Christ according to his Father’s decree died necessarily, Acts 17:3, “Opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ.” but yet willingly, John 10:18. Matt. 26:53, “Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels?” And if we respect the temperature of Christ’s body, he might have prolonged his life; and therefore in this respect may be said to have died contingently.
The execution of God’s decree, hath two branches; His operation, and His operative permission.
God’s operation, in His effectual producing of all good things, which either have being or moving, which are done.
God’s operative permission, is that by which He only permitteth one and the same work to be done of others, as it is evil; but as it is good, He effectually worketh the same. Gen 50:20, “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.” And, Gen. 45:7, “And God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance.” Isa. 10:5-7, “O Assyrian, the rod of mine anger, and the staff in their hand is mine indignation. I will send him against an hypocritical nation, and against the people of my wrath will I give him a charge, to take the spoil, and to take the prey, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets. Howbeit he meaneth not so, neither doth his heart think so; but it is in his heart to destroy and cut off nations not a few.”
God permitteth evil, but a certain voluntary permission, in that He forsaketh the second cause in working evil. And He forsaketh His creature, either by detracting the grace it had, or not bestowing that which it wanteth, Rom. 1:26, “For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature.” 2 Tim. 2:25-26, “In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth. And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.”
Neither must we think God herein unjust, who is indebted to none. Rom. 9:15, “For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” Yea, it is God’s pleasure to bestow how much grace, and upon who He will. Matt. 20:15, “Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?”
That which is evil, hath some respect of goodness with God: first, in that it is the punishment of sin; and punishment is accounted a moral good, in that it is the part of a just judge to punish sin. Secondly, as it is a mere action or act. Thirdly, as it is a chastisement, a trial of ones faith, martyrdom, propitiation for sin, as the death and passion of Christ, Acts 2:23 and 4:24. And if we observe these caveats, God is not only a bare permissive agent in an evil work, but a powerful Effector of the same, yet so, as He neither instilleth an aberration into the action, nor yet supposeth, or intendeth the same, but that He most freely suffereth evil, and best disposeth of it to His own glory. The like we may see in this similitude: Let a man spur forward a lame horse, in that He moveth forward, the rider is the cause. And again, we see the sun beams shining through a glass; where the light is from the sun, the color not from the sun but from the glass.