March 28, 2017

John Oldfield (c.1627–1682) on God’s Pathetic Begging, Philanthropy, and Willingness to Pardon

1. Will not God, think you, be most ready to do that which best pleases, and most honours him? and what’s that but pardoning the Penitent, embracing returning Prodigals? Do you question this? A great part of Scripture, yea, the very scope of the Gospel may convince you. Read Jer. 9:24; Mic. 7:18; Ex. 34:6–7; Isa. 55:7; Joel 2:12–13. Will you believe God upon his word? He hath told you, Ezek. 18:32 that he hath no pleasure in the death of him that dieth: will you have his Oath? Ezek. 33:11. As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; [herein he hath pleasure:] turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways, &c. If neither Word nor Oath will serve, yet I hope his Actings, and gracious Dispensations towards the sons of Men, towards yourselves, may pass for a Demonstration: Had God delighted in the Destruction; yea, had he not had unspeakably more delight in the salvation of poor sinners, would he have sent his Son? Would he have published the Gospel? Would he wait, and beseech, and so pathetically beg your souls? 2 Cor. 5:19. And for they own case, could not God have thrown thee into Hell so soon as thou wast born, if that had pleased him? Would he have been at so much cost and pains with thee? Or if thou now returnest, will he not accept thee; yea, meet thee while yet afar off, fall upon thy neck, and kiss thee, who hath been so long waiting that he might be gracious unto thee? And then for the honour of God; ‘tis true, he can get it in thy destruction, but he had rather thou wouldest give it him in thy Salvation: Such is his Philanthropy, and love to man, that he esteems that his greatest honour, which consists with his creatures greatest happiness. Let me speak a serious word; Which do you think will make the sweeter melody in God’s Ear? whether the eternal howlings and yellings of the damned, blaspheming, and tearing his Name in pieces; or the incessant Blessings and Hallelujahs of glorified Saints, singing Praises to him that sits upon the Throne, and to the Lamb for ever and ever? And for you to whom I am speaking [Prophane sinners]. How singularly pleasing will it be to God? How delightful to the Angels, &c. to entertain you into their heavenly society? (to entertain you, I say, not such as now you are, but washed in the blood of the Lamb, clothed with white linen, which is the Righteousness of the Saints) read, and read again those three Parables of the Prodigal son, the lost goat, and lost Sheep, Luke 18. They tell you there is more joy in Heaven over one sinner that repents, than over ninety and nine just persons that need no repentance; and for the glory of God, he will both get more by you, (for the Physician’s skill is commended by the desperateness of the disease he cures) and you will (at least endeavour) give him more than others: If we may imagine an holy strife and emulation among the glorified Saints, to excel each other in praising God; surely they that have exceeded others in sinning here, will in singing hereafter: they to whom most is given, will love most, admire most, and labour to rise highest in their praises: So that this may be helpful against any discouraging fears of being rejected; ‘Tis singularly pleasing and honouring to God that you should come in; you cannot suppose God unwilling to receive you upon your serious return, but you suppose him also false in his word, his oath deceitful in his actings, and unfaithful to the great interest of his own glory: all which is no less then blasphemy to imagine.
John Oldfield, The First, Last. Or, the Formal Hypocrite further from Salvation, (as to the Way of God's ordinary working) than the Prophane Sinner (London: Printed for R. Boulter, at the Turks-Head, in Cornhill, 1666), 95–98.


Other men within the Augustinian tradition who use the metaphor of God begging are the following:

Augustine (Early Church Father), Hugh Latimer (Early English Reformer), Isaac Ambrose (Puritan), Daniel Burgess (Puritan), Jeremiah Burroughs (Westminster divine), Richard Baxter (Puritan), Joseph Caryl (Westminster divine), Thomas Case (Puritan), Stephen Charnock (Puritan), John Collinges (Puritan), John Flavel (Puritan), Theophilus Gale (Puritan), William Gearing (Puritan), Andrew Gray (Puritan), William Gurnall (Puritan), Robert Harris (Westminster divine), Thomas Larkham (Puritan), Thomas Manton (Puritan), John Murcot (Puritan), George Newton (Puritan), Anthony Palmer (Puritan), Edward Reynolds (Westminster divine), John Richardson (Puritan), Samuel Rutherford (Westminster divine), John Shower (Puritan), Richard Sibbes (Puritan), Sydrach Simpson (Westminster divine), William Strong (Westminster divine), George Swinnock (Puritan), John Trapp (Puritan), Ralph Venning (Puritan), Nathaniel Vincent (Puritan), Thomas Watson (Puritan), Daniel Williams (Puritan), Samuel Willard, Benjamin Wadsworth, George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, Solomon Stoddard, Samuel Davies, Ralph Erskine, Charles Spurgeon, Thomas Chalmers, Walter Chantry, Erroll Hulse, John MacArthur and Fred Zaspel.

March 26, 2017

John Frost (c.1626–1656) on God’s Universal and Peculiar Love

God makes demonstration of universal love to all his creatures, Mat. 5:44–45. in the exercise of his general providences, upholding and ordering all things as his creatures; so his tender mercies are over all his works, Psal. 145:9. But the love which he bears to his peculiar is a peculiar love; that the love of a Creator, this of a Father; that founded in his nature, the other in Christ.
John Frost, Select Sermons Preached Upon Sundry Occasions (Cambridge: Printed by John Field, Printer to the University, 1657), 209.


March 15, 2017

Vavasor Powell (1617–1670) on Christ’s Willingness to Save All and Sovereign Good Pleasure

Ob[jection]. But as Christ is willing to save all, so he is also, to give and impart all saving gifts, and graces unto all.

A[nswer]. Christ is willing to save all, and he is very free to give, and very free in his gifts, and graces; yet notwithstanding, he gives according to his good pleasure. As a charitable man, wishes well to all poor people, yet he is free to give his charity, to whom he pleaseth. And as it is [Rev. 17:17] said (in another case) Its God that puts it in men’s hearts, to do his will: So it may be said here, when God makes men willing, then they become willing, and when God works power, then men are enabled, and not till then: for no man (as Christ saith [in John 6:44]) can come to him except the Father draw him. And no man can have a sanctified will, till the Lord [Jam. 1:18] by his own will, begets it in him. Therefore you that are willing, oh, bless and praise God, who hath made you so! and you that are unwilling, pray and wait, for the day of his power in which you shall be made willing.
Vavasor Powell, Christ and Moses’ Excellency, or Sion and Sinai’s Glory (London: Printed by R. I. for Hannah Allen, at the Crown in Popes-head-Alley, 1650), 163–64. Some spelling has been modernized.


January 12, 2017

Antonius Walaeus (1573–1639) on the Grace of General Providence

In order to understand this correctly, it should be noted carefully that this ‘passing over’ [involved in pre-temporal preterition] does not remove or deny all grace from those who have been passed over, but only the grace that is peculiar to the elect. But the grace that is distributed to mankind in various amounts through the administration of general providence (whether under the law of nature or under gospel-grace) is not taken away by this act of ‘passing over,’ but rather is presupposed by it, since the non-elect remain under the general government of divine providence and under the exercise of their own free choice.

September 26, 2016

John Calvin (1509–1564) on the Proper Office of the Gospel

The Gospel is preached for salvation: this is what properly belongs to it; but believers alone are partakers of that salvation. In the mean time, its being an occasion of condemnation to unbelievers—that arises from their own fault. Thus Christ came not into the world to condemn the world, (John iii. 17,) for what need was there of this, inasmuch as without him we are all condemned? Yet he sends his apostles to bind, as well as to loose, and to retain sins, as well as remit them. (Matt. xviii. 18; John xx. 23.) He is the light of the world, (John viii. 12,) but he blinds unbelievers. (John ix. 39.) He is a Rock, for a foundation, but he is also to many a stone of stumbling. (Isaiah viii. 14.) We must always, therefore, distinguish between the proper office of the Gospel, and the accidental one (so to speak) which must be imputed to the depravity of mankind, to which it is owing, that life to them is turned into death.
John Calvin, “Commentary on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians,” in Calvin’s Commentaries, trans. J. Pringle, 22 vol. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1981), 20:161.

Along the same lines, in his comments on Romans 1:16, Calvin said:
The gospel is indeed offered to all for their salvation, but the power of it appears not everywhere: and that it is the savour of death to the ungodly, does not proceed from what it is, but from their own wickedness.
These quotes by other Reformed theologians say the same:

James Nalton (c.1600–1662):
...the Gracious pardon of God that is tendered in the Gospel, does not kill, or condemn any in it self, or in its own Nature, but through the contempt of those that do disregard it, in this regard, not simply, but accidentally, through the Corruptions of men’s hearts, and Natures, in this regard, the Gospel may be said to increase a man's curse and condemnation...
Matthias Martinius (1572–1630):
...and the gospel, which in itself is a savor of life unto life, becomes to the unbelieving a savor of death unto death, by accident, through their own fault,...
William Fenner (1600–1640):
It was Christ’s primary purpose, and the first end of his coming, to save the world: it is an accidental end, or rather an event of his coming, that the world is condemned.

September 18, 2016

John Bunyan (1628–1688) on Reprobation and the Loving Heart of God

Consider, 1. That the simple act of reprobation, it is a leaving or passing by, not a cursing of the creature.

Consider, 2. Neither doth this act alienate the heart of God from the reprobate, nor tie him up from loving, favouring, or blessing of him; no, not from blessing of him with the gift of Christ, of faith, of hope, and many other benefits. It only denieth them that benefit, that will infallibly bring them to eternal life, and that in despite of all opposition; it only denieth so to bless them as the elect themselves are blessed. Abraham loved all the children he had by all his wives, and gave them portions also; but his choice blessing, as the fruit of his chiefest love, he reserved for chosen Isaac. Gen. xxv. 5, 6.
John Bunyan, “Reprobation Asserted,” in The Whole Works of John Bunyan, 3 vols. (1875; repr. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1977), 2:338.


Note: The Reformed scholastics generally distinguish between preterition and pre-damnation in God’s eternal decree touching the non-elect. By the term “reprobation” above, Bunyan clearly has in mind the notion of simple preterition (negative reprobation), or the divine decree not to grant certain blessings, such as faith, to the non-elect. He’s not dealing with God’s purpose to give the non-elect over to damnation on account of sin (i.e. pre-damnation). Pre-damnation is always on account of sin (even in William Twisse’s supralapsarian construct), and so is conditional, but preterition is unconditional, and is therefore a simple passing-by.

Update (re: predamnation and Twisse):

Notice what Nicholas Byfield (1579–1622) said about preterition and predamnation:
Fifthly, that whereas Divines make two parts of the decree of reprobation, Preterition and Predamnation; all Divines [even the supralapsarians] are agreed for the latter [predamnation], that God did never determine to damne any man for his owne pleasure, but the cause of his perdition was his owne sinne. And here is reason for it: for God may, to shew his soveraignty, annihilate his creature; but to appoint a reasonable creature to an estate of endlesse paine, without respect of his desert, cannot agree to the unspotted justice of God. And for the other part of passing over, and forsaking a great part of men for the glory of his justice, the exactest Divines doe not attribute that to the mere will of God, but hold that God did first looke upon those men as sinners, at least in the generall corruption brought in by the fall. For all men have sinned in Adam, and are guilty of high treason against God.
Nicholas Byfield, A Commentary Upon the First Three Chapters of the First Epistle General of St. Peter (London: Printed by Miles Flesher and Robert Young, 1637), 312.

Notice that Byfield says all divines are agree on the cause of predamnation being sin. They know that to say otherwise entails blasphemy, since it would be against Gods just nature. It is also worth noting that the terminology of “predamnation” (prædamnatio) is frequently used among the Reformed orthodox. It’s in Lucas Trelcatius, Franciscus Junius, Francis Turretin (Institutes, 1:381, 382, 389), Richard Stock, Edward Leigh, Nathanael Homes, Adam Martindale, Johannes Wollebius, Thomas Manton, James Ussher, George Newton, John Trapp, and Edward Polhill, just to name a few. William Cunningham noted that there are “two distinct acts, which Calvinistic theologians usually regard as included in what is commonly called the decree of reprobation, namely, first, praeteritio, or passing by, which is an act of sovereignty; and secondly, praedamnatio, which is a judicial act, described in the [Westminster] Confession as ‘ordaining them to dishonour and wrath for their sin’” (Historical Theology, 2:422–23). For more on this, it is worth consulting Donald W. Sinnema, The Issue of Reprobation at the Synod of Dort (1618–19) in Light of the History of this Doctrine (PhD diss. University of St. Michaels College, University of Toronto, 1985).

On a discussion board, someone has posted this quote from William Twisse, as if it is contrary to what I said:
In like sort, if I am demanded whether God did decree, of the mere pleasure of his will, to refuse to give grace and glory unto some, and to inflict upon them damnation. To this I cannot answer at once, there being a fallacy in the demand. But distinguish them: I answer and say, that, as touching the point of denying grace, God doth that of his mere pleasure; but as touching the denial of glory, and the inflicting of damnation, he doth not decree to do these of mere pleasure, but rather merely for sin, to wit, for their infidelity and impenitency, and all the bitter fruits that shall proceed from them. So that reprobation, according to our tenet rightly stated, is the decree of God partly to deny unto some, and that of his mere pleasure, the grace of faith and repentance, for the curing of that infidelity and hardness of heart, which is natural unto all, and partly to deprive them of glory, and to inflict damnation upon them, not of his mere pleasure, but merely for their final continuance in sin, to wit, in infidelity and impenitency, and all the fruits that proceed therehence.
William Twisse, The Riches of God’s Love Unto the Vessels of Mercy, Consistent with His Absolute Hatred or Reprobation of the Vessels of Wrath (Oxford: Printed by L. L. and H. H. Printers to the University, for Tho. Robinson, 1653), 1:5–6.

This quote actually substantiates my point about Twisse. Notice that, with respect to “denying grace,” i.e. negative reprobation, Twisse says this is of God’s mere pleasure. There is no cause in the creature that moves God either to elect some unto faith or to refuse others the grace of faith. However, “as touching the denial of glory, and the inflicting of damnation, he doth not decree to do these of mere pleasure [i.e. without a cause], but rather merely for sin, to wit, for their infidelity and impenitency,” and all sin that proceeds from this. Twisse then distinguishes between senses of “reprobation” in the decree of God: 1) to deny unto some, of his mere pleasure, the grace of faith and repentance, and 2) “to deprive them of glory, and to inflict damnation upon them, not of his mere pleasure, but merely for their final continuance in sin,” etc. 

The first sense is of God’s “mere pleasure,” or without a cause in the creature, but the second sense is not of God’s mere pleasure, but on account of sin in the creature. So, it is fair to say that, according to Twisse, the first sense, or negative reprobation, is unconditional (i.e. without a cause in the creature) and the second sense, or positive reprobation, is conditional (i.e. with a cause in the creature). As Twisse elsewhere said, “...God in this decree of condemnation hath alwayes the consideration of that sinne for which hee purposeth to damne them; for, undoubtedly, hee decrees to condemne no man but for sinne. It is impossible it should be otherwise; condemnation, in the notion thereof, formally including sinne” (A treatise of Mr. Cottons clearing certaine doubts concerning predestination together with an examination thereof [London: Printed by J.D. for Andrew Crook, 1646], 111; emphasis mine).

As Richard Muller has rightly noted, Twisse also distinguished between an unconditional election or predestination to faith and a conditional election or predestination to salvation. Zanchi and Bucer also made this distinction. Election to faith is of God’s mere pleasure, or unconditional, but election to salvation is through the instrumentality of faith and repentance, and so “conditional” in that instrumental sense, even though God grants the meeting of the condition in the elect. Corresponding to this in the case of the non-elect or reprobate, the denial of the grace of faith is of God’s mere pleasure, or unconditional, but the decree to damn is not of God’s mere pleasure, but on condition of final impenitence, infidelity, and all the sinful fruits that stem from unbelief.

Note what Twisse said:
In this respect of another will of God, I willingly confess, one may be accounted predestinate absolutely, and another reprobated absolutely, to wit, in respect of the will of giving the grace of faith and repentance unto one, and denying it to another [i.e. preterition, or negative reprobation]: And that because faith and repentance are not given and denied upon any condition, but absolutely, according to the mere pleasure of God; as we are ready to maintain. But herehence no species of contradiction arises, for like as it is not contradiction to say that God wills absolutely unto Paul the grace of faith and repentance, and conditionally wills unto him and everyone salvation, to wit, upon the condition of faith and repentance: In like sort, there is no contradiction to say that the same man predestinated absolutely unto faith, and conditionally unto salvation: In like sort it may said without all contradiction, that the same man is both reprobated absolutely from faith, and yet reprobated conditionally from glory unto condemnation. And lastly, in like manner, there is no contradiction to say, that the same man is predestinated conditionally to obtain salvation; and yet absolutely reprobated from faith: especially seeing it is all one, to be predestinated conditionally to obtain salvation, and conditionally to obtain damnation: for he that is ordained to be saved in case he do believe, is therewithal ordained to be damned in case he believe not: The ground whereof is, that of our Savior “whosoever believes shall be saved, whosoever believes not shall be damned.” Now if God may both will unto a man salvation conditionally, to wit, upon the condition he believes, and yet withal will the denial of faith absolutely unto him, without all contradiction, (as I have already proven) it follows, that without contradiction, a man may be said both to be predestinated to obtain salvation conditionally, viz. In case he do believe, and so to be predestinated absolutely, to be hardened, or to have the grace of faith denied to him. So that this Author’s conclusion depends merely upon confusion of different denominations of a man said to be absolutely, or conditionally predestinated: which may be in respect of different things whereto he is predestinated, to the one absolutely, to the other conditionally, and consequently without all contradiction. For he that is absolutely reprobated from the grace of faith, may yet be conditionally predestinated unto salvation. For to be conditionally predestinated unto salvation, is to be conditionally predestinated unto damnation, and what sober man will say man will say, that there is any contradiction in this, to say that the same man is both conditionally reprobated unto damnation, and absolutely reprobated from faith. Faith being such a gift of God, that like as God absolutely bestows it on some, so as absolutely he denies it to others. But as for condemnation, that is inflicted on none but for sin, like as salvation is bestowed on none of ripe years, but as reward of obedience. In like manner, God decreed not either to bestow the one, or inflict the other but conditionally, to wit, upon the condition of faith on the one side, and upon the condition of infidelity on the other. Now if such confusion be committed in these denominations of the predestinate and reprobate, absolutely and conditionally, one the part of things willed by God, as namely in respect of grace and glory on the one side, and in respect of the denial of grace and glory, together with inflicting damnation on the other; How much more must this confusion be augmented, if not only different things willed by God (as before mentioned) are confounded, but over and above the act of God’s will is confounded with things willed by him. For as the act of God’s will, that it admits no condition, I have formerly demonstrated by diverse arguments…
William Twisse, The Riches of God’s Love unto the Vessels of Mercy, consistent with his absolute hatred or reprobation of the Vessels of Wrath (Oxford: Printed by L. L. and H. H. Printers to the University, for Tho. Robinson, 1653), 1:176.

This represents what Twisse is saying above:

Unconditionally predestined to faith. Unconditionally denied the grace of faith.
Conditionally predestined to salvation. Conditionally predestined to condemnation.

One can summarize Twisse’s view by saying, as Edwin H. Palmer said in his Twelve Theses on Reprobation, “Reprobation as preterition is unconditional, and as condemnation it is conditional” (The Five Points of Calvinism: A Study Guide [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1972], 129).

Robert Reymond, a supralapsarian, said something similar:
And, while it is true that God’s determination to pass by the rest of mankind (this “passing by” is designated “preterition” from the Latin praeteritio) was grounded solely in the unsearchable counsel of his own will, his determination to ordain those whom he had determined to pass by to dishonor and wrath (condemnation) took into account the condition which alone deserves his wrath—their sin.
Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith, 2nd ed. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1998), 345.

Twisse said:
For as for God’s purpose to damne, we willingly professe, that as God damnes no man but for sin, so he purposeth to damne no man but for sinne. But as for his purpose to give or deny the grace of regeneration, the grace of faith and repentance, we as readily profess, that not the purpose only, but the very giving of faith and repentance, for the curing of infidelity and hardnesse of heart in some, and the denying of it unto others, so to leave their naturall infidelity and hardnesse of heart uncured, proceeds merely according to the good pleasure of his will, according to that of the Apostle, He hath mercy on whom he will, and whom he will he hardneth; And by a cloud of testimonies out of Austin we can prove, that in this very sense he understood the Apostle in that place.
William Twisse, The Riches of God’s Love unto the Vessels of Mercy, consistent with his absolute hatred or reprobation of the Vessels of Wrath (Oxford: Printed by L. L. and H. H. Printers to the University, for Tho. Robinson, 1653), 1:109.

Commenting on supralapsarianism and Twisse’s view, John Gill said:
I answer, the Supralapsarians distinguish reprobation into negative and positive; negative reprobation is non-election, or preterition, a passing by of some, when others were chosen; the objects of this decree, are men considered as not yet created, and so neither wicked nor righteous. Positive reprobation is the decree of damnation, or that which appoints men to everlasting ruin, to which it appoints no man but for sin. It is therefore a most injurious representation of the Supralapsarians, that they assert that God has reprobated, that is, appointed innocent persons to eternal destruction; when they, over and over, say, as may easily be observed in the writings of that famous Supralapsarian, Dr. Twiss, that God has not decreed to damn any man, but for sin: and that the decree of reprobation is of no moment, or reason of nature, before, and without the consideration of sin. Now, if it is not incompatible with the justice of God, to damn men for sin, it can be no ways incompatible with his justice, to decree to damn men for sin.
John Gill, The Cause of God and Truth (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1980), 157.

We see in Twisse and others that God’s determination to damn is on account of their sin, or, as Reymond put it, positive reprobation takes “into account the condition which alone deserves his wrath—their sin.” To say Twisse’s view is an “unconditional determination to damn men on account of sin” is incoherent, and not representative of Twisse’s thought. If God is taking into account men’s sin when he purposes to damn them, then that is clearly a condition in them, and so it is a conditional determination to damn men on account of sin. As Twisse said above, “God decreed not either to bestow the one [salvation], or inflict the other [damnation] but conditionally, to wit, upon the condition of faith on the one side, and upon the condition of infidelity on the other.” According to Twisse, “it may said without all contradiction, that the same man is both reprobated absolutely from faith [i.e. preterition], and yet reprobated conditionally from glory unto condemnation.”

Paul N. Archbald’s Summary of Theodore Beza (1519–1605) on the Grace and Love of God

Beza also occasionally speaks in terms of what could be called common grace. He suggests that, in a sense, Christ died for the wicked, because all things were created by the Father in the Son (1 Corinthians 15:22). The wicked therefore receive life and blessing, but all this turns to a curse for them. Only those grafted into Christ are made partakers of His resurrection-life.66 Beza rejects the idea that the incarnation made all without exception members of Christ. Union with Christ applies to the church alone. It is by covenant, not by nature.67

It is still possible, however, to speak of a universal love of God. At Montbéliard, Andreae asked if God has ever loved those who are now damned, or will be. Beza replied with Augustine’s distinction that God both hates and loves at the same time. He loves what He has created, and He loves His ordaining of human beings as vessels for some use or other. He hates the sinful works of men, the ungodliness which He Himself did not make. God, “in that He makes vessels of perdition of the mass of the lost, does not hate what He does.”68
66. Questions, 21a-22.
67. Ibid., 36-36a.
68. Coll. Mont., 212-213. [“...Deum odisse simul & amare homines: amare videlicet homines quatenus sunt opus suum, odisse vero in hominibus opera hominis, id est peccata...]
Paul N. Archbald, A Comparative Study of John Calvin and Theodore Beza on the Doctrine of the Extent of the Atonement (PhD diss. Westminster Theological Seminary, 1998), 294–295. See also pp. 222–223. William Strong (d.1654), the Westminster divine, also said Beza taught God’s “common love” for all creatures as such, along with Calvin.