<38>

CHAPTER III.
OF THE DIVINE DECREES.

HITHERTO I have considered that knowledge of God which is to be obtained from his nature. That which is derived from his efficiency is the next subject of inquiry.

The efficiency of God is either internal or external.

The internal efficiency of God is that which is independent of all extraneous agency. Such are his decrees. Eph. i. 9. 'which he hath purposed in himself.'

The decrees of God are general or special. God's general decree is that whereby he has decreed from all eternity of his own most free and wise and holy purpose, whatever he willed, or whatever he was himself about to do.

Whatever, &c. Eph. i. 11. 'who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will;' which comprehends whatever he himself works or wills singly, not what is done by others, or by himself in co-operation with those to whom he has conceded the natural power of free agency. The creation of the world, and the removal of the curse from the ground, Gen. viii. 21. are among his sole decrees.

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From all eternity. Acts xv. 18. 'known unto God are all his works, from the beginning of the world.' 1 Cor. ii. 7. 'even the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the world.'

Of his own most free-; that is, without controul, impelled by no necessity, but according to his own will. Eph. i. 11. as before.

Most wise-; that is, according to his perfect foreknowledge of all things that were to be created. Acts ii. 23. 'by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God.' iv. 28. 'for to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done.' xv. 18. 'known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.' 1 Cor. ii. 7. 'the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the world.' Eph. iii. 10, 11. 'the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed.'

There is an absurdity, therefore, in separating the decrees or will of the Deity from his eternal counsel and foreknowledge, or in giving them priority of order. For the foreknowledge, of God is nothing but the wisdom of God, under another name, or that idea of every thing, which he had in his mind, to use the language of men, before he decreed anything.

Thus it is to be understood that God decreed nothing absolutely, which he left in the power of free agents, —a doctrine which is shewn by the whole canon of the Scripture.[1] Gen. xix. 17, 21. 'escape to <40> the mountain, lest thou be consumed...... see, I have accepted thee concerning this thing also, that I will not overthrow this city for the which thou hast spoken.' Exod. iii. 8, 17. 'I am come down to deliver them .... and to bring them up unto a good land' —though these very individuals actually perished in the wilderness. God also had determined to deliver his people by the hand of Moses, yet he would have killed that same Moses, Exod. iv. 24. if he had not immediately circumcised his son. 1 Sam. ii. 30. 'I said indeed..... but now Jehovah saith, Be it far from me;' —and the reason for this change is added, —'for, them that honour me I will honour.' xiii. 13, 14. 'now would Jehovah have established <41> thy kingdom..... but now thy kingdom shall not continue.' Again, God had said, 2 Kings xx. 1. that Hezekiah should die immediately, which however did not happen, and therefore could not have been decreed without reservation. The death of Josiah was not decreed peremptorily, but he would not hearken to the voice of Necho when he warned him according the word of the Lord, not to come out against him; 2 Chron. xxxv. 22. Again, Jer. xviii. 9, 10. 'at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it; if it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good wherewith I said I would benefit them,' —that is, I will rescind the decree, because that people hath not kept the condition on which the decree rested. Here then is a rule laid down by God himself, according to which he would always have his decrees understood, —namely, that regard should be paid to the conditionate terms attached to them. Jer. xxvi. 3. 'if so be they will hearken, and turn every man from his evil way, that I may repent me of the evil, which I purpose to do unto them because of the evil of their doings.' So also God had not even decreed absolutely the burning of Jerusalem. Jer. xxxviii. 17, &c. 'thus saith Jehovah..... if thou wilt assuredly go forth unto the king of Babylon's princes, then thy soul shall live, and this city shall not be burned with fire.' Jonah iii. 4. 'yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown' —but it appears from the tenth verse, that when God saw that they turned from their evil way, he repented of his purpose, though Jonah was angry and thought the change unworthy of God. <42> Acts xxvii. 24, 31. 'God hath given thee all them that sail with thee' —and again —'except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved,' where Paul revokes the declaration he had previously made on the authority of God; or rather, God revokes the gift he had made to Paul except on condition that they should consult for their own safety by their own personal exertions.[2]

It appears, therefore, from these passages of Scripture, and from many others which occur of the same kind, to the paramount authority of which we must bow, that the most high God has not decreed all things absolutely.

If, however, it be allowable to examine the divine decrees by the laws of human reason, since so many arguments have been maintained on this subject by controvertists on both sides with more of subtlety than of solid argument, this theory of contingent decrees may be defended even on the principles of men, as most wise, and in no respect unworthy of the Deity. For if those decrees of God, which have been referred to above, and such others of the same class as occur perpetually, were to be understood in an absolute sense, without any implied conditions, God would contradict himself, and appear inconsistent.

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It is argued, however, that in such instances not only was the ultimate purpose predestinated, but even the means themselves were predestinated with a view to it. So indeed it is asserted, but Scripture nowhere confirms the rule, which alone would be a sufficient reason for rejecting it. But it is also attended by this additional inconvenience, that it would entirely take away from human affairs all liberty of action, all endeavour and desire to do right. For the course of argument would be of this kind —If God have at all events decreed my salvation, whatever I may do against it, I shall not perish. But God has also decreed as the means of salvation that you should do rightly. I cannot, therefore, but do rightly at some time or other, since God has decreed that also, —in the mean time I will act as I please; if I never do rightly, it will be seen that I was never predestinated to salvation, and that whatever good I might have done would have been to no purpose. See more on this subject in the following Chapter.

Nor is it sufficient to affirm in reply, that the kind of necessity intended is not compulsory, but a necessity arising from the immutability of God, where by all things are decreed, or a necessity arising from his infallibility or prescience, whereby all things are foreknown. I shall satisfactorily dispose in another place of these two alleged species of necessity recognized by the schools:[3] in the mean time no <44> other law of necessity can be admitted than what logic, or in other words, what sound reason teaches; that is to say, when the efficient either causes some determinate and uniform effect by its own inherent propensity, as for example, when fire burns, which kind is denominated physical necessity; or when the efficient is compelled by some extraneous force to operate the effect, which is called cumpulsory necessity, and in the latter case, whatever effect the efficient produces, it produces per accidens.[4] Now any necessity arising from external causes influences the agent either determinately or compulsorily; and it is apparent that in either alternative his liberty <45> would be wholly annihilated. But though a certain immutable and internal necessity of acting right, independent of all extraneous influence whatever, may exist in God conjointly with the most perfect liberty, both which principles in the same divine nature tend to the same point, it does not therefore follow that the same thing can be conceded with regard to two different natures, as the nature of God and the nature of man, in which case the external immutability of one party may be in opposition to the internal liberty of the other, and may prevent unity of will. Nor is it admitted that the actions of God are in themselves necessary, but only that he has a necessary existence; for Scripture itself testifies that his decrees, and therefore his actions, of what kind soever they be, are perfectly free.

But it is objected that no constraint is put upon the liberty of free agents by divine necessity or first causes. I answer, —if it do not constrain, it either determines, or co-operates, or is wholly inefficient. If it determine or co-operate, it is either the sole or the joint and principal cause of all the actions, whether good or bad, of free agents.[5] If it be wholly inefficient, it cannot be called a cause in any sense, much less can it be termed necessity.

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Nor do we imagine anything unworthy of God, when we assert that those conditional events depend on the human will, which God himself has chosen to place at the free disposal of man; since the Deity purposely framed his own decrees with reference to particular circumstances, in order that he might permit free causes to act conformably to that liberty with which he had endued them. On the contrary, it would be much more unworthy of God, that man should nominally enjoy a liberty of which he was virtually deprived, which would be the case were that liberty to be oppressed or even obscured under the pretext of some sophistical necessity of immutability or infallibility, though not of compulsion, —a notion which has led, and still continues to lead many individuals into error.

However, properly speaking, the divine counsels can be said to depend on nothing, but on the wisdom of God himself, whereby he perfectly foreknew in his own mind from the beginning what would be the nature and event of every future occurrence when its appointed season should arrive.

But it is asked how events which are uncertain, inasmuch as they depend on the human will, can harmonize with the decrees of God, which are immutably fixed ?[6] for it is written, Psal. xxxiii. 11. 'the counsel of Jehovah standeth forever.' See also Prov. xix. 21. and Isai. xlvi. 10. Heb. vi. 17. 'the immutability of his counsel.' To this objection it may be answered, first, that to God the issue of events is not <47> uncertain, but foreknown with the utmost certainty, though they be not decreed necessarily, as will appear afterwards. —Secondly, in all the passages referred to, the divine counsel is said to stand against all human power and counsel, but not against the liberty of will with regard to such things as God himself had placed at man's disposal, and had determined so to place from all eternity. For otherwise, one of God's decrees would be in direct opposition to another, and that very consequence would ensue which the objector imputes to the doctrine of his opponents, namely, that by considering those things as necessary, which the Deity had left to the uncontrouled decision of man, God would be rendered mutable. But God is not mutable, so long as he decrees nothing absolutely which could happen otherwise through the liberty assigned to man; whereas he would then be mutable, then his counsel would not stand, if he were to obstruct by another decree that liberty which he had already decreed, or were to darken it with the least shadow of necessity.[7]

It follows, therefore, that the liberty of man must be considered entirely independent of necessity,[8] and <48> no admission can be made in favour of that modification of the principle which is founded on the doctrine of God's immutability and prescience. If there be any necessity at all, as has been stated before, it either determines free agents to a particular line of conduct, or it constrains them against their will, or it co-operates with them in conjunction with their will, or it is altogether inoperative. If it determine free agents to a particular line of conduct, man will be rendered the natural cause of all his actions, and consequently of his sins, and formed as it were with an inclination for sinning. If it constrain them against their will, man who is subject to this compulsory decree will be rendered the cause of sins only per accidens, God being the cause of sins per se. If it co-operate with them in conjunction with their will, then God becomes either the principal or the joint cause of sins with man. If, finally, it be altogether inoperative, there is no such thing as necessity, it virtually destroys itself by being without operation. For it is wholly impossible, that God should have decreed necessarily what we know at the same time to be in the power of man; or that that should be immutable which it remains for subsequent contingent circumstances either to fulfil or frustrate.

Whatever, therefore, was left to the free will of our first parents, could not have been decreed immutably or absolutely from all eternity; and questionless, either nothing was ever placed in man's power, or if it were, God cannot be said to have determined finally respecting it without reference to possible contingencies.

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If it be objected, that this doctrine leads to absurd consequences, we reply, either the consequences are not absurd, or they are not the consequences of the doctrine. For it is neither impious nor absurd to say, that the idea of certain things or events might be suggested to God from some extraneous source; for since God had determined from all eternity, that man should so far be a free agent, that it remained with himself to decide whether he would stand or fall,[9] the idea of that evil event, or of the fall of man, was suggested to God from an extraneous source, —a truth which all confess.

Nor does it follow from hence, that what is merely temporal becomes the cause of, or a restriction upon what is eternal, for it was not any thing temporal, but the wisdom of the eternal mind that gave occasion for framing the divine counsel.

Whatever therefore was the subject of the divine counsel, whether man or angel[10] who was to be gifted <50> with free will, so that his fall might depend upon his own volition, such without doubt was the nature of the decree itself, so that all the evil consequences which ensued were contingent upon man's will; wherefore the covenant stood thus —if thou remain faithful, thou shalt abide in Paradise; if thou fall, thou shalt be cast out: if thou dost not eat the forbidden fruit, thou shalt live; if thou eat, thou shalt die.[11]

Hence, those who contend that the liberty of actions is subject to an absolute decree, erroneously conclude that the decree of God is the cause of his foreknowledge, and antecedent in order of time.[12] If we must apply to God a phraseology borrowed from our own habits and understanding, that his decrees should have been the consequence of his foreknowledge seems more agreeable to reason, as well as to Scripture, and to the nature of God himself, who, as has just been proved, decreed every thing according to his infinite wisdom by virtue of his foreknowledge.

It is not intended to deny that the will of God is the first cause of all things, but we do not separate his prescience and wisdom from his will, much less do we think them subsequent to the latter in point of time. Finally, the will of God is not less the universal first cause, because he has himself decreed that <51> some things should be left to our own free will, than if each particular event had been decreed necessarily.

To comprehend the whole matter in a few words, the sum of the argument may be thus stated in strict conformity with reason. God of his wisdom determined to create men and angels reasonable beings,[13] and therefore free agents; at the same time he foresaw which way the bias of their will would incline, in the exercise of their own uncontrouled liberty.[14] What then? shall we say that this foresight or foreknowledge on the part of God imposed on them the necessity of acting in any definite way ? No more than if the future event had been foreseen by any human being. For what any human being has foreseen as certain to happen, will not less certainly happen than what God himself has predicted. Thus Elisha foresaw how much evil Hazael would bring upon the children of Israel in the course of a few years, 2 Kings viii. 12. Yet no one would affirm that the evil took place necessarily on account of the foreknowledge of Elisha; for had he never foreknown it, the event would have occurred with equal certainty, through the free will of the agent. So neither does anything happen because God has fore <52> seen it; but he foresees the event of every action, because he is acquainted with their natural causes, which, in pursuance of his own decree, are left at liberty to exert their legitimate influence. Consequently the issue does not depend on God who foresees it, but on him alone who is the object of his foresight. Since therefore, as has before been shown, there can be no absolute decree of God regarding free agents, undoubtedly the prescience of the Deity, (which can no more bias free agents than the prescience of man, that is, not at all, since the action in both cases is intransitive, and has no external influence,) can neither impose any necessity of itself, nor can it be considered at all the cause of free actions. If it be so considered, the very name of liberty must be altogether abolished as an unmeaning sound; and that not only in matters of religion, but even in questions of morality and indifferent things. There can be nothing but what will happen necessarily, since there is nothing but what is foreknown by God.

That this long discussion may be at length concluded by a brief summary of the whole matter, we must hold that God foreknows all future events, but that he has not decreed them all absolutely: lest all sin should be imputed to the Deity, and evil spirits and wicked men should be exempted from blame.[15] Does my opponent avail himself of this, and think the concession enough to prove either that God does not fore know every thing, or that all future events must <53> therefore happen necessarily, because God has foreknown them ? I allow that future events which God has foreseen, will happen certainly, but not of necessity. They will happen certainly, because the divine prescience cannot be deceived, but they will not happen necessarily, because prescience can have no influence on the object foreknown, inasmuch as it is only an intransitive action. What therefore is to happen according to contingency and the free will of man, is not the effect of God's prescience, but is produced by the free agency of its own natural causes, the future spontaneous inclination of which is perfectly known to God. Thus God foreknew that Adam would fall of his own free will; his fall therefore was certain, but not necessary, since it proceeded from his own free will, which is incompatible with necessity.[16] Thus too God foreknew that the Israelites would revolt from the true worship to strange gods, Deut. xxxi. 16. If they were to be led to revolt necessarily on account of this prescience on the part of God, it was unjust to threaten them with the many evils which he was about to send upon them, ver. 17. it would have been to no purpose that a song was ordered to be written, which should be a witness for him against the children of Israel, because their sin would have been of necessity. But the prescience of God, like that of Moses, v. 27. had no extraneous influence, and God testifies, v. 16. that he foreknew they would sin from their own voluntary <54> impulse, and of their own accord, —'this people will rise up,' &c. and v. 18. 'I will surely hide my face in that day.... in that they are turned unto other gods.' Now the revolt of the Israelites which subsequently took place, was not the consequence of God's foreknowledge of that event, but God foreknew that, although they were free agents, they would certainly revolt, owing to causes with which he was well acquainted, v. 20, 21. 'when they shall have eaten and filled themselves, and waxen fat, then will they turn unto other gods..... I know their imagination which they go about, even now before I have brought them into the land which I sware.'

From what has been said it is sufficiently evident, that free causes are not impeded by any law of necessity arising from the decrees or prescience of God. There are some who in their zeal to oppose this doctrine, do not hesitate even to assert that God is himself the cause and origin of sin. Such men, if they are not to be looked upon as misguided rather than mischievous, should be ranked among the most abandoned of all blasphemers. An attempt to refute them, would be nothing more than an argument to prove that God was not the evil spirit.

Thus far of the general decree of God. Of his special decrees the first and most important is that which regards his Son, and from which he primarily derives his name of Father. Psal. ii. 7. 'I will declare the decree: Jehovah hath said unto me, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.' Heb. i. 5. 'unto which of the angels said he at any time, Thou art my son, this day have I begotten thee ?' And again, 'I will be to him a Father, and he shall <55> be to me a Son.' 1 Pet. i. 19, 20. 'Christ.... who verily was fore-ordained before the foundation of the world.' Isai. xlii. 1. 'mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth.' 1 Pet. ii. 4. 'chosen of God, and precious.' From all these passages it appears that the Son of God was begotten by the decree of the Father.

There is no express mention made of any special decree respecting the angels, but its existence seems to be implied, 1 Tim. v. 21. 'the elect angels.' Eph. i. 9, 10. 'the mystery of his will..... that he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth.'

[1]

The following lines contain the sum of the doctrine laid down by Milton in this and the following chapter, and the coincidences of expression are not unfrequently as striking as the similarity of reasoning.

...... So will fall

He and his faithless progeny: Whose fault ?

Whose but his own ? Ingrate, he had of me

All he could have; I made him just and right,

Sufficient to have stood, though free to fall.

Such I created all the ethereal Powers

And Spirits, both them who stood, and them who fail'd;

Freely they stood who stood, and fell who fell.

Not free, what proof could they have given sincere

Of true allegiance, constant faith, or love,

Where only what they needs must do appear'd,

Not what they would ? what praise could they receive,

What pleasure I, from such obedience paid,

When will and reason (reason also is choice)

Useless and vain, of freedom both despoil'd,

Made passive both, had serv'd necessity,

Not me ? They therefore, as to right belong'd,

So were created, nor can justly accuse

Their Maker, or their making, or their fate,

As if predestination over-rul'd

Their will, dispos'd by absolute decree

Or high foreknowledge; they themselves decreed

Their own revolt, not I; if I foreknew,

Foreknowledge had no influence on their fault,

Which had no less prov'd certain, unforeknown, &c. &c.

Paradise Lost, III. 95.

[2]

'Ex his verbis (nisi isti in navi manserint, &c.) liquet apostolum, qui optime mentem divini promissi intelligebat, non credidisse Deum absolute velle salvare eos omnes qui in navi erant; sed tantum sub hac conditione, si nihil eorum omitterent quæ ad suam incolumitatem facere poterant..... Sed conditionem in promisso quod acceperat inclusam fuisse, non obscure liquet ex verbis quibus conceptum fuit, Ecce Deus κεχάρισταί σοι omnes qui tecum navigant, id est, largitus est tibi hane gratiam, ut eos omnes tuo consilio a morte liberes, si illi obtemperarint; alioqui de iis actum erit, et ipsi culpa sua peribunt. Curcellæi Institutio, iii. 11. 4.

[3]

'But when I say that the divine decree or promise imprints a necessity upon things, it may to prevent misapprehension be needful to explain what kind of necessity this is, that so the liberty of second causes be not thereby wholly cashiered and taken away. For this therefore we are to observe that the schools distinguish of a twofold necessity, physical and logical, or causal and consequential; which terms are commonly thus explained; viz. that physical or causal necessity is when a thing by an efficient productive influence certainly and naturally produces such an effect,' &c. South's Sermon on the Resurrection, Vol. III. p. 398. 'Graviter itaque errare consendi sunt, qui duplicem necessitatem rebus tribuunt, ex providentia divini, unam immutabilitatis, quia cum Deus non mutet decretum, sicut dicitur Psal. xxxiii. 11. Mal. iii. 6. quiequid omnino decrevit, certissime evenit: alteram infallibilitatis, quia,' &c. Curcellæi Institutio, iii. 12. 16. See also lib. iv. 2. 5.

[4]

'Tertio causa efficiens per se efficit, aut per accidens. Tertium hoc par modorum efficiendi est ab Aristotele etiam et veteribus notatum.' Artis Logicæ plenior Institutio. Prose Works, VI. 208. And again —'Quæ autem natura necessario, quæ consilio libere agunt; necessario agit quæ aliter agere non potest, sed ad unum quidpiam agendum determinatur, idque solum sua propensione agit, quæ necessitas naturæ dicitur .... Libere agit efficiens non hoc duntaxat ut naturale agens, sed hoc vel illud pro arbitrio, idque absolute, vel ex hypothesi.... Per accidens efficit causa quæ externa facultate efficit; id est, non sua; cum principium effecti est extra efficientem, externumque principium interno oppositum; sic nempe efficiens non efficit per se, sed per alind..... Coactione fit aliquid, cum efficiens vi cogitur ad effectum. Ut cum lapis sursum vel recta projicitur, qui suapte natura deorsum fertur. Hæc necessitas coactionis dicitur, et causis etiam liberis nonnunquam accidere potest.' ibid. 209.

[5]

The allusion appears to be to the doctrine of Thomas Aquinas and the Dominicans, who held that God predetermined the will by a physical influence, so that the Deity was the first cause of the action, and the creature the second cause, all the guilt of the sin being attributed to the latter party. With regard to the logical distinction, nearly the very words of the original occur elsewhere. 'Secundo, causa efficiens sola efficit, aut cum aliis. Earumque omnium sæpe alia principalis, alia minus principalis, sive adjuvans et ministra. Artis Logicæ plenior Institutio. Prose Works, VI. 206.

[6]

Yet more there be who doubt his ways not just,

As to his own edicts found contradicting.-

Samson Agonistes, 300.

[7]

So without least impulse or shadow of fate,

Or aught by me immutably foreseen,

They trespass, authors to themselves in all

Both what they judge, and what they choose; for so

I form'd them free; and free they must remain,

Till they enthrall themselves; I else must change

Their nature, and revoke the high decree

Unchangeable, eternal, which ordain'd

Their freedom; they themselves ordain'd their fall.

Paradise Lost, III. 120.

[8]

.............. Beyond this had been force,

And force upon free will hath here no place.

Paradise Lost, IX. 1174.

[9]

.............. such discourse bring on

As may advise him of his happy state,

Happiness in his power left free to will,

Left to his own free will, his will though free,

Yet mutable; whence warn him to beware

He swerve not, too secure. Paradise Lost, V. 233.

[10]

So Satan, speaking of himself:

Hadst thou the same free will and power to stand ?

Thou hadst; whom hast thou then or what to accuse,

But Heaven's free love dealt equally to all ? IV. 66.

And Raphael:

Myself, and all the angelick host, that stand

In sight of God enthron'd, our happy state

Hold, as you your's, while our obedience holds;

On other surety none; freely we serve

Because we freely love, as in our will

To love or not; in this we stand or fall:

And some are fallen-. V. 535.

[11]

............ thine and of all thy sons

The weal or woe in thee is plac'd; beware.

I in thy persevering shall rejoice,

And all the blest; stand fast, to stand or fall

Free in thine own arbitrement it lies.

Paradise Lost, VIII. 637.

[12]

According to the Supralapsarian doctrine, that a prescience of future contingents, antecedent to the divine decree, is an absurdity and impossibility.

[13]

..... God left free the will, for what obeys

Reason, is free; and reason he made right,

But bid her well be ware, and still erect. IX. 351.

[14]

...... What can 'scape the eye

Of God all-seeing, or deceive his heart

Omniscient? who in all things wise and just

Hindered not Satan to attempt the mind

Of Man, with strength entire and free will arm'd

Complete to have discover'd and repuls'd

Whatever wiles of foe or seeming friend.

Paradise Lost, X. 5.

[15]

'Hoc tantum obiter; fatum sive decretum Dei cogere neminem male facere; et ex hypothesi divinæ præscientiæ certa quidem esse omnia, non necessaria. Artis Logicæ plenior Institutio. Prose Works, VI. 210.

[16]

..... no decree of mine

Concurring to necessitate his fall,

Or touch with lightest moment of impulse

His free will, to her own inclining left.

In even scale Paradise Lost, X. 42.

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