Friday, February 28, 2014

Maximus on The Hypostatic Union

“For it is just as when a sword has been heated: what is able to cut becomes able to burn and what is able to burn becomes able to cut (for just as fire was united to iron, thus also the burning of fire was united to the cutting of the iron). The iron has become able to burn by a union with the fire, and the fire becomes able to cut by a union with the iron. Neither thing has undergone a change with respect to mode of exchange with the other in the union, but each has remained, in the identity of what was composed in the union, without falling from what belonged to it according to nature. Likewise, in the mystery of the divine incarnation, the divine and the human were united hypostatically, where neither of the natural activities was displaced because of the union, and neither was acquired after the union as something unrelated, as though it was divided both from what was composed and what was co-hypostasized.”

Maximus the Confessor (580 - 662)

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

1st and 2nd Adam - Peter Chrysologus (c. 380 – c. 450)

The holy Apostle has told us that the human race takes its origin from two men, Adam and Christ; two men equal in body but unequal in merit, wholly alike in their physical structure but totally unlike in the very origin of their being. The first man, Adam, he says, became a living soul, the last Adam a life-giving spirit. The first Adam was made by the last Adam, from whom he also received his soul, to give him life. The last Adam was formed by his own action; he did not have to wait for life to be given him by someone else, but was the only one who could give life to all. The first Adam was formed from valueless clay; the second Adam came forth from the precious womb of the Virgin. In the case of the first Adam, earth was changed into flesh; in the case of the second Adam, flesh was raised up to be God.

What more need be said? The second Adam stamped his image on the first Adam when he created him. That is why he took on himself the role, and the name, of the first Adam, in order that he might not lose what he had made in his own image. The first Adam, the last Adam; the first had a beginning, the last knows no end. The last Adam is indeed the first; as he himself says: I am the first and the last.

I am the first, that is, I have no beginning. I am the last, that is, I have no end. But what was spiritual, says the Apostle, did not come first; what was living came first, then what is spiritual. The earth comes before its fruit, but the earth is not so valuable as its fruit. The earth exacts pain and toil; its fruit bestows subsistence and life. The prophet rightly boasted of this fruit: Our earth has yielded its fruit. What is this fruit? The fruit referred to in another place: I will place upon your throne one who is the fruit of your body. The first man, says the Apostle, was made from the earth and belongs to the earth; the second man is from heaven, and belongs to heaven.

The man made from the earth is the pattern of those who belong to the earth; the man from heaven is the pattern of those who belong to heaven. How is it that these last, though they do not belong to heaven by birth, will yet belong to heaven, men who do not remain what they were by birth but persevere in being what they have become by rebirth? The reason is, brethren, that the heavenly Spirit, by the mysterious infusion of his light, gives fertility to the womb of the virginal font. The Spirit brings forth as men belonging to heaven those whose earthly ancestry brought them forth as men belonging to the earth, and in a condition of wretchedness; he gives them the likeness of their Creator. Now that we are reborn, refashioned in the image of our Creator, we must fulfill what the Apostle commands: So, as we have worn the likeness of the man of earth, let us also wear the likeness of the man of heaven.

Now that we are reborn, as I have said, in the likeness of our Lord, and have indeed been adopted by God as his children, let us put on the complete image of our Creator so as to be wholly like him, not in the glory that he alone possesses, but in innocence, simplicity, gentleness, patience, humility, mercy, harmony, those qualities in which he chose to become, and to be, one with us.

St Peter Chrysologus (Sermon 117: PL 52, 520-521)

Monday, February 24, 2014

Edwards vs. Piper

In his book Puritans: Their Origins and Successors, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones gives us this interesting bit of information about Jonathan Edwards which is pertinent to the “Reformed Charismatic” issue spreading in our day. It seems that the Rev. George Whitefield made remarks to the effect that he occasionally experienced what he called “impressions” from God's Spirit. Whatever else Whitefield may have meant by the term “impression,” it is clear that Edwards understood him to be claiming some sort of direct, unmediated communication from God. And here’s the important point that Lloyd-Jones makes: Edwards frankly rebuked Whitefield for this.* However innocent it may have seemed to Whitefield and others, Edwards rightly saw that it was highly dangerous, because it was an unmediated approach to God and a deriving of knowledge of God's will which could not be verified, checked, or corrected by Scripture. Carried to its logical conclusion, which Whitefield thankfully did not do, it would lead to an outright denial, in practice, of the sufficiency of Scripture.  

Here's the puzzling thing about all this: There are a few modern Jonathan Edwards scholars, such as John Piper, who engage in the very thing Edwards rebuked Whitefield for. I’m trying for the life of me to figure out how a guy, who claims Jonathan Edwards as his “mentor,” so to speak, can turn around and advocate the very thing he must know that Edwards rebuked other folks for – George Whitefield, no less!

Here's an example of Edwards own words: “And yet some people actually imagine that the revelation in God's Word is not enough to meet our needs. They think that God from time to time carries on an actual conversation with them, chatting with them, satisfying their doubts, testifying to His love for them, promising them support and blessings. As a result, their emotions soar; they are full of bubbling joy that is mixed with self-confidence and a high opinion of themselves. The foundation for these feelings, however, does not lie within the Bible itself, but instead rests on the sudden creations of their imaginations. These people are clearly deluded. God's Word is for all of us and each of us; He does not need to give particular messages to particular people.” *

Notice that Edwards specifically ties the “God spoke to me” malarkey to “God's Word is not enough.” That should tell you something about Edwards' view of the charismatic movement. Moreover, he rebukes such people for being led astray by their own imaginations, and he goes so far as to call them “deluded.” Strong meat indeed!

Now let's compare what we have just read from Edwards own pen, with the words of an ardent “disciple.” This is clearly on record and the link is provided at the Desiring God website, no less, so that you may see that I am not making this up. Here are Piper's own exact words: 

“Let me tell you about a most wonderful experience I had early Monday morning, March 19, 2007, a little after six o'clock. God actually spoke to me. There is no doubt that it was God. I heard the words in my head just as clearly as when a memory of a conversation passes across your consciousness. The words were in English, but they had about them an absolutely self-authenticating ring of truth. I know beyond the shadow of a doubt that God still speaks today.” ᵻ

Note the familiar strains. Riding right on the surface sits the very things of which Edwards warned. There is a palpable rejection of the sufficiency of Scripture, seen in the words, “God still speaks today,” spoken, not in regard to Scripture's self-authenticating authority, but about his own little “experience.” That loaded phrase - absolutely self-authenticating – is terribly disturbing. This means that no one, but no one, is ever going to be allowed to call this into question. I should know. I posted the clip with a critical remark and had hell rained down upon me by devoted followers of Piper. So, not only are we not allowed to question the authority of these words Piper claims to have heard in his head, but he has legions of devoted followers who will have your head on pike if you dare to.

The standard response is usually that nothing in Piper's “message” contradicts Scripture. But that is begging the question. I hope we can all agree that if such a message contradicted Scripture, then it most certainly is not from God. But even more importantly, God has already said all that He intends to in His Word, so that if such a message agreed with Scripture, it is merely superfluous. If you are still inclined to say that it is fine as long as it agrees with Scripture, let me quote William Bridge (1600-1670), a member of the Westminster Assembly. 

Bridge writes:
“Yea, though the revelation or vision be not contrary to the Scripture, yet if it be brought to try or confirm the doctrine of the gospel, it is not the Lord's; for the doctrine of the gospel is confirmed already, and that sufficiently…Now the doctrines of the gospel are all confirmed by miracles and gifts of the Holy Ghost; and therefore if any man have a revelation, to try or confirm any gospel doctrine, it is a delusion of Satan, not a revelation of God.” (Works, Volume I, page 418) As sharp as those words are, they are no less sharp than Edwards own statement that purveyors of this cockamamie “God speaks to me” stuff are “deluded.”

Personally, I don’t think it has anything to do with God's word or will. The whole affair seems like a big spiritual power play to me. Once I have established that God speaks to me in a special way – different from how He speaks to you through the crusty old Bible – my power is forever secure. If I say that in the Bible God commands X,Y,Z, I am merely preaching. But when I say that God revealed to me that He wants us to do X,Y,Z (even if this is merely repeating the very words of Scripture), I am propping myself up as an indispensable authority in your life. If you want fresh revelations directly from God, you need me. That, my friends, is called Gnosticism.  Volumes have been written, especially in the days of the Church Fathers, against all of the convoluted doctrines of Gnosticism. There is a sense in which I feel that this was wasted effort. The content was never the main point. The important point is that God speaks to me privately, and he doesn't speak that way to you. Neener-neener-neener! Once I have made that claim, I have the unassailable and unquestionable authority of an Old Testament prophet and if you dare to cross swords with me, you'd better beware.

*Lloyd-Jones seems to have agreed with Edwards at the time of writing this particular fact. He fell off the wagon later in life, which is most regrettable and has merely encouraged a host of “Reformed Charismatics” to pursue this same foolishness.

ᵻ Piper's words can be heard here and an analysis can be read here.

* I have found this quote on dozens of  websites, without reference to an exact location in Edwards' works. After a good amount of research, I am convinced that it comes from a modernized rendering of Edwards' classic, "Religious Affections." The quote I believe to be referred to is from Part III.1 of said work. In the passage under consideration, Edwards specifically treats what some have accused me of not believing about Piper: namely that he is simply saying that God directly impressed on him something already written in Scripture. Edwards says, “They have often particular words of Scripture, sweet declarations and promises suggested to them, which by reason of the manner of their coming, they think are immediately sent from God to them, at that time, which they look upon as their warrant to take them, and which they actually make the main ground of their appropriating them to themselves, and of the comfort they take in them, and the confidence they receive from them. Thus they imagine a kind of conversation is carried on between God and them; and that God, from time to time, does, as it were, immediately speak to them, and satisfy their doubts, and testifies his love to them, and promises them supports and supplies, and his blessing in such and such cases, and reveals to them clearly their interest in eternal blessings… confidence, is not anything contained in, or taught by these Scriptures, as they lie in the Bible, but the manner of their coming to them; which is a certain evidence of their delusion.” (last paragraph, page 111)

In John Owen's Defense of Scripture Against Fanaticism, he essentially argues, that the private revelations not necessary if they merely agree with Scripture. If they disagree, of course, they are false.

So, let's assume for the sake of argument, that all Piper is saying is that he had a deeply profound experience wherein God spoke directly into his consciousness the words of Psalm 66, we still find both Owen and Edwards disagreeing with this procedure by saying (a) All of God's promises to His people are for God's people, hence He doesn't need to personally reveal anything directly into your consciousness since He has already revealed it in Scripture and validated it. And (b), If the so-called revelation is merely in agreement with what Scripture has already revealed, then it is superfluous for God to reveal it again to you, and that in an unmediated way.
Of course, this is an unwarranted assumption, if Piper's own words are to be believed. He literally opens the article by saying that he knows "beyond the shadow of a doubt that God still speaks today" based upon his purported experience of God speaking directly into his consciousness.   He continues, "The he said, as clearly as any words have ever come into my mind, 'I am awesome in my deeds toward the children of man."

I know what you're going to say, because I have heard it a thousand times since this post originally aired: He's only quoting Scripture. What's wrong with that? But let us step back a second and analyze the situation. Piper does not claim to have read the Bible and found the Spirit strongly applying it to him. NO. He claims that God spoke directly in an unmediated way - straight into his consciousness. And that it was clearly self-authenticating, hence it could not be doubted but that this was God speaking. 

Two things should be said in response to this: (1) Those who are angry about this post should stop pretending that Piper is not a Charismatic. He has openly admitted such and advocates the continuation of the so-called charismata. So when he criticizes the author of "My Conversation With God," we are left to wonder what is his gripe. He is describing his experience in exactly the same terms. This leads to another point: (2) Piper's position begs the question. It assumes without biblical defense, that such direct, unmediated, straight-into-my-consciousness communication from God is real. We have already quoted the Westminster divine Bridge in refutation of such a position. 
I might further ask why, if the Bible is so important, and so neglected due to a craving for personal communications from God, does Piper speak in such glowing terms of his experience, which is virtually indistinguishable from the one he criticizes? If he merely wanted to say, "Don't look for revelations from God outside of Scripture. Read, study and love your Bible," why didn't he just say that? Why begin with the esoteric  "God actually spoke to me... I heard the words in my head..." He does not say, "I was reading my Bible out loud." In fact, he actually distinguishes what he heard in his head from the written Word of God, otherwise he wouldn't have to defend it with the "self-authenticating ring of truth" line.

Let's hear Edwards again. "But here some may be ready to say, What, is there no such thing as any particular spiritual application of the promises of Scripture by the Spirit of God? I answer, there is doubtless such a thing as a spiritual and saving application of the invitations and promises of Scripture to the souls of men; but it is also certain, that the nature of it is wholly misunderstood by many persons, to the great ensnaring of their own souls, and the giving Satan a vast advantage against them, and against the interest of religion, and the church of God... An application not consisting in this divine sense and enlightening of the mind, but consisting only in the word's being borne into the thoughts, as if immediately then spoken, so making persons believe, on no other foundation, that the promise is theirs, is a blind application, and belongs to the spirit of darkness, and not of light.

"When persons have their affections raised after this manner, those affections are really not raised by the word of God; the Scripture is not the foundation of them; it is not anything contained in those Scriptures which come to their minds, that raise their affections; but truly that effect, viz., the strange manner of the word's being suggested to their minds, and a proposition from thence taken up by them, which indeed is not contained in that Scripture, nor any other; as that his sins are forgiven him, or that it is the Father's good pleasure to give him in particular the kingdom, or the like. There are propositions to be found in the Bible, declaring that persons of such and such qualifications are forgiven and beloved of God: but there are no propositions to be found in the Bible declaring that such and such particular persons, independent on any previous knowledge of any qualifications, are forgiven and beloved of God: and therefore, when any person is comforted, and affected by any such proposition, it is by another word, a word newly coined, and not any word of God contained in the Bible. And thus many persons are vainly affected and deluded." 

Saying that one should love the Bible more than any direct "in your own head" communication from God - and then defending that by telling the rapturous details of the time when God spoke directly into your head - is logic I cannot follow.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Points in Favor of Supralapsarianism, part 2

Read with Ephesians 1:3-14 in mind

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guaranteed of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

Point 4: Reprobation would appear to be before the decree of creation based on facts such as this: There are others "whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world" (Rev. 17:8).

Point 5: The Fall can't be in view before election because some elect have never fallen: The elect angels never fell (1 Tim. 5:21). This may serve to answer something brought up in a previous comment, namely that election is unto salvation, and non-sinners don’t need saving. At first blush, this sounds like a strong argument. However, I am not sure that I can fully grant the premise that election is unto salvation, or at least, salvation from sin. Unto what are the elect angels elected? It certainly cannot be said to be salvation from sin, since their election carries with it the not falling into sin. So perhaps we could say that election is unto glory in Christ, who is the first and true Elect, into whom all the other elect are counted.

Point 6: Infralapsarianism seems to imply that all men were originally fit for dishonor (Rom. 9:21). Scripture clearly teaches in Romans 9 that some are vessels of wrath fit for dishonor, while the elect are vessels of mercy. There seems to be no hint that the elect and the reprobate were first lumped together and then separated into the two categories of "vessels of mercy" and "vessels of wrath."

Point 7: The means serves the ends: If God first determined to create men, next permitted their fall, then out of the fallen mass to choose some to salvation, did He not purpose to do all this without any end in view? The ends proposed by Scripture is that God wished to do all for His own glory. He is glorified in the display of His mercy and His justice. This is another place where the question of conception versus historical execution comes in. 

Point 8: God views His elect as glorified, the Fall being the means.

In closing out this series, let me reiterate: Both the Infralapsarian and Supralapsarian positions teach the eternality of God's decrees. The issue is only the logical, not the temporal, order of those decrees in God's mind. That is why one must be careful to not draw too deep a line in the sand. The mind of God is immeasurably and infinitely above and beyond the human mind. We must always remember that God's mind and counsel are one and indivisible, therefore using our human (and therefore fallen) forms of reasoning may quickly lead us into unwarranted speculations far outside the scope of revealed truth. The preceding posts have merely been my attempt to profit by marveling at the wisdom of God, not an attempt to draw any hard and fast rules whereby anyone's Christian profession is assessed or judged.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Points in Favor of Supralapsarianism, part 1

Read with Ephesians 1:3-14 in mind

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guaranteed of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

Point 1: Spiritual blessing of the Elect were purposed BEFORE the foundation of the world. In other words, before He even willed the creation of the world in which He willed the Fall. (Eph. 1:3-4) Follow the logic of the passage: Before the foundation of the world there were already spiritual blessings purposed for the elect. This means that creation and the Fall which occurred therein, are, in order of logic, under, the decree of Predestination. 

Point 2: The elect were viewed in Christ before they were viewed as sinners or even as created. (Eph. 1:4) This passage takes us to a ‘time’ before time existed, i.e., before Creation, and it tells us that the elect were, even then, viewed by God as in Christ, before they were created and subsequently viewed as fallen sinners. We have touched on this issue already several posts ago, where we discussed the fact that in any logical arrangement, the first thing conceived of is the final, i.e., ultimate, purpose.

You will remember that I made reference to the work of the classical guitarist Elliot Fisk. His ultimate goal was to record his performance of Paganini’s 24 Caprices on guitar. Along the way he invented new techniques for performing and transcribing. The invention of techniques, useful as it was, was not his ultimate goal. It was merely a means to his end, which was the recording of the Caprices on guitar. 

I’m not asserting anything unfamiliar to any of us. All we have to do is consult our own experience to know this to be true. The million dollar question then is: What is/was God’s ultimate end? Our passage, and many others, tells us that it was the praise of His glory, or as our Children’s Catechism says, “For His own glory.” God decreed to glorify Himself. That is the ultimate purpose behind everything. Predestination sets up the parameters of said glorification: glorification of His mercy and righteousness. Creation and the Fall are subservient means.

Point 3: This point doesn't actually come from the above passage (Eph 1). This is based upon Paul’s comparison between Adam and Christ as the federal heads of all those who are counted in them. All humanity is counted as in Adam, hence all sinned and fell in his sin and Fall. All the elect are elected in Christ, i.e., they are in Him. He is their covenant Head. Paul compares Adam and Christ in 1 Corinthians 15:22-49 and Romans 5:12-21. There is an important truth taught in this passage, which has already been laid out in the preceding sentences. Christ stands for the Elect in the same way that Adam stands for all men. In Adam’s sin and misery, all humanity is counted as guilty sinners. In Christ’s righteousness, all the Elect are counted as righteous. 

If this analogy holds, it would seem to me then that if the first Adam's bride was given to him before the Fall, the same must be true of the Second Adam. We have an example in the creation of Eve and the giving of her to Adam in the union of marriage. As Adam saw her, loved her in the sight, and took her unto himself as his bride. In the same way, the Church was given to Christ in a marriage covenant from eternity. As Eve was given to Adam before the Fall, so the church was given to Christ in the mind of God before the fall, indeed, before any regard to sin. 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

William Perkins' "Golden Chain" Ordo Salutis (Order of Salvation) Chart

This is the Ordo Salutis chart from William Perkins' book A Golden Chain. This is a very good representation of the Supralapsarian position. Kudos to whomever redesigned this chart from its original form in Perkins' book. The original was hopelessly confusing. This has been extremely well done.

(Double-clicking on the image will magnify it to a size big enough to read in detail.)

Monday, February 10, 2014

Supralapsarianism - Common Objections 7


As this series unfolds I plan to make several positive arguments in favor of Supralapsarianism. But one more thing needs to be said before we get there. Supralapsarianism is frequently accused of being hyper-Calvinism. This is a very problematic accusation to begin with. First of all, Supralapsarianism specific defined view. It is a view that is and has been seen as acceptable within the pale of historic Calvinism, clearly seen by the proceedings of the Synod of Dort. The term hyper-Calvinism means different things to different people. It is always used in a pejorative sense. I frequently joke that hyper-Calvinists are like the Sasquatch of Reformed theology: there are constant sightings of them, yet no one has ever captured one. It is an unhelpful term because it only means what the user wants it to mean. For that reason, I will not entertain any discussion on the subject of hyper-Calvinism. It is a meaningless term which can only unfold into a meaningless and pointless discussion.

From this point on, we will deal only in positive arguments based on Scripture, Ephesians 1:3-14 in particular.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Supralapsarianism - Common Objections 6

Before we move on, there are three passages of Scripture which I want to cite which clearly demonstrate God’s dealing with his creatures out of pure sovereignty rather than justice. There are obviously many more, but these three will suffice for our purposes. The first of these passages is:

Matthew 11:23 – “And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.”

This passage clearly teaches that God is sovereign over reprobation in an active sense, not merely in a passive sense. Jesus specifically says that the miracles which were done in Capernaum would have been sufficient to bring repentance to Sodom, at least enough repentance to keep them from being destroyed when they were. And yet these miracles were purposely withheld. Draw your own conclusions from that.

The 2nd passage is the Parable of the Vineyard Workers, found in Matthew 20:1-16. Rather than reproduce the entire passage here, let me simply refer to the section of it which is relevant to our discussion. You’ll remember that in the parable workers were hired at several different times throughout the day and that they were all hired for the same amount. The climax of the parable is the section which is relevant to our discussion. When quitting time came and the men were going to be paid for their labor, the men who had worked a mere hour were paid the same amount as those who had worked all day. Naturally the men who had busted their humps all day in the sun complained. I have no doubt but that anyone who reads this parable sees the inherent “unfairness” of this arrangement. But notice what the vineyard owner says. Rather, notice what he does not say. The owner the vineyard does not say, “You are absolutely right. It is completely unfair of me to pay you the same amount for 10 times more work than these other bums did who came along later in the day. I’m glad you pointed out to me the inherent unfairness of this arrangement.” The owner of the property in fact says, “Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as much as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?” Notice that the principle upon which the landlord works (the principle which verse 1 tells us is a principal of the kingdom of heaven), is sovereignty over his property, not any notion of justice as construed by his workers.

The 3rd passage is the lesson of the fig tree in Mark 11:12-14, 20. In what from a fallen human perspective must be viewed as an incredible act of unfairness, Jesus curses a fig tree for having no fruit, which would not be unusual in itself, except that figs were not in season. This demonstrates sovereignty in a way that beggars description. If it had been fig season we would not be surprised if someone were angry with a tree for having no fruit, although we might be surprised if they cursed the tree because of that. But here we find Jesus, the creator of the universe who must therefore be aware of when one can and cannot find fruit on a tree. And yet operating on a principle of pure sovereignty, Jesus pronounces a damning curse on a tree which has no fruit out of season.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Supralapsarianism - Common Objections 5

The logical consistency of Supralapsarianism does a far superior job in handling the question of sin and evil with regard to the divine decrees than Infralapsarianism does. This is why I said earlier that the Infralapsarian objection that Supralapsarianism makes God the author of sin, is an unfair argument at the very least. I only bring that up again here, after having already dealt with that objection, because it appears to me that Infralapsarianism confuses logical conception or logical order with historical execution, as I’ve already said. This means that it is contrary to fact and that it creates confusion in the divine decrees, at least some of them, by leaving the purpose of unspecified until the next decree. This would appear to deny God’s rationality by making the Divine decree be purely arbitrary, without any reason.

In any logical arrangement the first thing conceived of is the final purpose. Every step along the way is made in order to accomplish what comes before. This would of course mean that the decree which concerns the creation of man would have to be preceded by a decree that requires the creation of man in order to accomplish the ultimate goal while still representing man is a “possibility.” Therefore it seems to be a rather weak argument when it is said that Supralapsarianism is illogical because it makes the decree of election and reprobation refer to nonentities, bare possibilities in the mind of God, who do not as yet in fact exist.

One final consideration is the decree of Predestination as it regards the angels. The Supralapsarian view is the only adequate explanation for predestination as it regards the angels. The entire body of angels consists of 2 categories: the fallen and the unfallen. Scripture refers to the unfallen angels as “the elect angels” {τῶν ἐκλεκτῶν ἀγγ έλων} (1 Tim. 5:21), by which language a specific body of chosen individuals is denominated. This language is identical to that used with reference to the human individuals which God has chosen as a specific body, i.e., the Church, which he has chosen in His Son. It is therefore obvious that Supralapsarianism is the only adequate explanation for predestination as it regards the angels, because those among them who are designated “elect,” were not chosen out of a mass of fallen individuals. The angels who were termed “elect,” were decreed to be so without any consideration of a fall. None of the fallen angels are elect. Scripture gives is no reason to think that the decree of predestination which encompasses the election and reprobation of angels is to be considered in any different manner from the decree of predestination which encompasses the election and reprobation of men. The decree of predestination with regard to the angels makes it very clear, even without the biblical commentary which Romans 9 gives us with regard to human election, that predestination unto election or reprobation is not, and should not be considered, a matter of Divine Justice, but rather a matter of Divine Sovereignty.

Before we continue, I’d like to tie up would seems to me to be one remaining loose end. I have already repeatedly asserted that predestination, which I use as an umbrella term for both election and reprobation, is an act of God’s sovereignty, not his justice. I have also already affirmed repeatedly that the primary weakness of Infralapsarianism, as far as I can see, is that it confuses logical conception with historical execution. I repeat all of this now because Calvinism in general, and Supralapsarianism specifically, is frequently impugned as if it held that God created some creatures, i.e., some men, merely to damn them. Before I reply to this issue, I’d like to say that I find it a tad amusing since Scripture does indeed have statements such as, “prepared for destruction” (Rom. 9:22), “The LORD has made everything for its purpose, even the wicked for the day of trouble” (Prov. 16:4), “They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do” (1 Peter 2:8).

But let’s return to the matter at hand. This accusation, viz., that God intentionally created some men purely to damn them, misses the point entirely. God’s ultimate aim in predestination, which includes election and reprobation, is not primarily the salvation of the elect, nor the damnation of the reprobate. God’s ultimate aim is his own glory. God has decreed to glorify himself in mercy and retributive justice: mercy to the vessels of mercy, and retributive justice to the vessels of wrath. Neither the salvation of the elect nor the damnation of the reprobate is God’s primary our ultimate aim in the decree of predestination. The ultimate aim is His own glory.

But I can already hear someone objecting, “I thought you said that predestination was an act of sovereignty not of justice.” But now you are saying that God has decreed to glorify himself in retribution justice upon the vessels of wrath. Again, this objection is guilty of confusing logical conception with historical execution. The Supralapsarian position affirms that Creation and the Fall were decreed by God as the means of executing His decree of predestination. It is important to keep reminding ourselves that what we are considering is the logical conception, not the historical execution.

This is why I brought up the subject of predestination as it regards the elect angels at a point which seems perhaps out of sequence. I wanted to have that idea in place already in order to respond to this criticism. Someone may be tempted to distance the predestination of angels from the decree of predestination of men. But notice what Scripture says, “Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” (Hebrews 1:14). This means that the decree of Predestination (comprised of election and reprobation) as regards angels is subservient to the decree of Predestination with regard to man. Angels were created before man, but this is because they were created for the purpose of serving the elect. The Greek text explicitly says, “all angels” (πάντες). I take this to mean literally, all angels – good and bad. Lest someone object at my including bad angels in the “all,” let me remind you of the following Scriptures:

Exodus 9:16 (cited in Romans 9:17) - But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.

Isaiah 44:28-45:1 who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd, and he shall fulfill all my purpose’; saying of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be built,’ and of the temple, ‘Your foundation shall be laid.’” "This is what the LORD says to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of to subdue nations before him and to strip kings of their armor, to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut:…”

Isaiah 10:5-6 - Ah, Assyria, the rod of my anger; the staff in their hands is my fury! Against a godless nation I send him, and against the people of my wrath I command him, to take spoil and seize plunder, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets…

Notice that in all three of these passages God is specifically using evil enemies for the benefit of His people. Not only are these enemies of God simply used by God for the benefit of his people, but the Scriptures explicitly declare that the reason for both their actual existence and their attainment of military strength was by God’s design and was for the benefit of his covenant people. God used Pharaoh to glorify himself in the eyes of his covenant people. God used Assyria as a rod to discipline a wayward and unfaithful covenant people. God used Cyrus as an instrument of showing God’s graciousness to his people by turning his heart to let the captives of Judah return home and rebuild the temple.

On the strength of that observation, I am completely comfortable in asserting that the “all,” of Hebrews 1:14 refers literally to all angels, good and bad. This means that not only does reprobation, as it regards man, serve the elect, but so does the predestination of angels, which includes both their election and reprobation. You’ll remember, of course, that we demonstrated that the decree of predestination as regards the angels must be viewed in a Supralapsarian way because no fall is in view with regard to the elect of their number. The elect of their number were never subject to a fall and no means of salvation was provided for those who did fall. It would seem very unusual, not to say illogical, if the entire scheme of predestination were to be viewed along the lines of Infralapsarianism, while the decree of predestination with regard to the angels, which is entirely subservient to the decree of predestination with regard to Christ and his church, must be construed along the lines of Supralapsarianism.

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