William Bradford Institute
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Early Settlement of America

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The Decrees of God


by Francis Turretin


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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