January 18, 2015

Elnathan Parr (1577–1622) on Divine Permission and God's Decree

Qu. But do you believe that God's providence extends itself to all actions of men, even to decree, order, and govern evil actions?

Ans. Yes indeed; I believe that even the evil Actions of Men, are not  only foreknown, but also decreed by God.

Explic. We need not fear to attribute evil actions to the decree of God, because the Scripture so speaks; only we must soberly and wisely understand it: namely, that Pharoah's cruelty, Shemei's cursing, Absolom's uncleanness, Judas' betraying of Christ, are not by his revealed will approved, but forbidden: and yet that by his good pleasure he will permit the same. Which permission we may not understand to be the cessation of his care and providence, or an idle winking at the matter, but joined with an active power, not of infusing evil into men, but first of taking away or denying his grace, and of delivering of them most justly to Satan, and to the lusts of their own hearts: And also of bounding their wills, purposes and Actions, and directing them to a good end. For God is so good, that he would never suffer evil to be, if he could not bring good out of evil [Parr seems to be alluding to Augustine here]. Even as the skillful Apothecary knows how to use poison well, and to the good of the Patient. And surely, this is a most pregnant proof of the powerful providence of God herein, when those Actions which are done by wicked men contrary to his will, yet are brought to serve and fulfill his holy will and purpose. For even as in an Army, one fights for praise, another for lucre of the spoil, another is egged forward by desire of revenge; yet all for the victory, and for their Prince: and as in a ship, some weigh up Anchors, others stand at the pump, others at the stern, and all by several works labor for the safety of the ship; so, whatsoever the wicked propound to themselves, yet the Lord orders all to his good pleasure, will they nil they: so that as an arrow flies to the mark which the shooter aims at, without any sense where it goes; So the Lord serves himself by the wicked, though they think not so much. Hence is it, that though the decree of God's providence (as has been said) is concerning those evil actions; yet neither is God guilty, nor man guiltless. God is not guilty, because he puts no evil into men, but uses them as he finds them, and so makes them to serve his glory, who may use what Creatures he will, and cannot use them, though they be evil, but well, because he is infinitely good. Neither is man guiltless, notwithstanding the Decree; for sinners are not excusable, because there is no force used towards them, but they follow their sins with great pleasure, and are [of a] very willing mind, and casting away the care of virtue, do of their own accord, yield themselves to their own lusts, respecting in their evil deeds only the satisfying of their own wills, and not the fulfilling of the will of God. The Jews did what the hand and will of God had determined before to be done to Christ; but they considered not that, but were led unto that sin, by the malice and covetousness of their own wicked and envious hearts, which were the true causers thereof. So that, (as Saint Augustine says) in one and the self same thing, God is just, and Man is most unjust, because in that one thing which they do, there is not one cause for the which they do the same.

Here further it is to be marked, that the Decree of God (in respect whereof all things are necessary) does not not take away contingency, which is, when a thing, when it is, had cause whereby it might have been otherwise. As the bones of Christ must be unbroken in regard of God's Decree, and yet they might have been broken in regard of their own Nature, and the freedom of the minds of the Soldiers. Neither may any think, that hereby are frustrated, deliberations, prudence, and use of means; for as God decrees the being of things, so also the means whereby such things shall be. As in regard of God's Decree, Lot cannot be burned in Sodom; but then he must escape, and hie[?] him away out of the City. David must overcome Goliath, but then he must take his Sling, with the smooth stones, with him. Manasses must be saved, because God has so decreed, but then he must repent and believe, which are the means of salvation appointed and decreed by God.
Elnathan Parr, The Grounds of Divinity (London: Printed by Edward Griffin, and William Hunt, 1651), 24. Some of the spelling has been changed.


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