If You Don’t Like God’s Sovereign Decrees, Then Tell Us He’s Arbitrary Instead

Infralapsarians argue that the supralapsarian position depicts God as discriminating among men as men rather than as sinners, which in turn makes God appear to be arbitrary if not also the author of sin. This argument appears at first to have some teeth, because it seems to appeal to God’s justice. That is, it would seem unjust of God to discriminate among men with no regard to the fact that man is a sinner. However, if we delve a little deeper into this argument, we find there is very little actual justice there, because God’s determination to save or to condemn is not a reaction in response to the actions of men as Arminians claim it is.

God’s determination to save or to condemn is not a reaction in response to the actions of men. If this is true, then the infralapsarian contention loses its teeth. The infralapsarian argues that God’s decree to save and condemn must have come before His decree that all men would fall. Otherwise, they argue, God would be the author of sin.

But if God’s determination to save or condemn is not a reaction, then it is a cause. In other words, God’s decree to condemn some and save others is the reason for His decree that all men would fall. If it is not the cause of this, then we would have to say God’s decree to fell mankind was a decree made arbitrarily. However, the fact that all of God’s purposes center upon the revelation of His glory loses all significance in the light of this.

The infralapsarian has no answer for this. Nor does he have an answer for the election of angels. The election of some angels did not depend on all angels falling, for not all the angels fell (1 Tim 5:21, Jd 1:6). True, we are not angels, but if God’s decree to preserve some angels did not require the fall of all angels, then why should we have a problem with saying the decree to save some people and condemn others did not first require the decree that all men fall?

We find a similar challenge to the infralapsarian contest in Romans 9. There, Paul does not speak of one vessel made from one lump, but rather of two vessels made from one lump. The infralapsarians have argued that the lump refers to man after the fall. But if this is the case, then why the need to make two vessels? Wouldn’t God have needed to make only one vessel (the elect), and leave the rest in its sin, a lump?

In other words, if the whole lump were under condemnation, then what need is there to fit a second vessel for condemnation? The passage only makes sense when we interpret the lump to mean the entirety of the human race prior to the decree that all would fall. From one human race, neither sinful nor righteous, God made two vessels, one for honor (righteousness) and the other for dishonor (condemnation).

Which brings me back to the idea of God as the author of sin. I don’t know why we should have a problem saying God is the author of sin. Some of the confessions tell us He is not, so therefore I suppose we have to have a problem with saying He is, but this doesn’t make any sense to me. It beats me how author does not mean first cause. Funnily enough, I thought the word author meant exactly that! I mean, after all, isn’t the author of a book the first cause of his book?

If someone means to say that God is not the direct cause of sin, then I agree. He does not do the tempting. But this is not what is usually meant by the phrase, author of sin. What people usually mean by author of sin is that He has nothing whatsoever to do with sin, not even as its first cause. And with this I disagree.

As far as the word “arbitrary” goes, the appeal to it is really nothing more than a pejorative. God is sovereign. He is never arbitrary. Not even if I don’t care for what He has decreed.

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About David Bishop

Gospel of Grace Church http://www.gospeldefense.com/about.html
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2 Responses to If You Don’t Like God’s Sovereign Decrees, Then Tell Us He’s Arbitrary Instead

  1. johnyeazel says:

    I’m still unclear as to why Reformed theology has, for the most part, suppressed the supralapsarian concept of election. From what I understand it was the writers of the Reformed confessions and the later Reformed scholastics who wavered and then finally settled in with infralapsarianism. When Hoeksema tried to challenge the infrapsarian position he was quickly suppressed and made out to be a hyper-Calvinist. From this stemmed a whole lot of problems in Reformed theology, i.e., common grace, the free offer of the Gospel, the problem of human agency in trying to reconcile divine sovereignty and human responsibility, the acceptance of paradox in some doctrinal positions. In fact, I think their whole understanding of covenant theology is tied to their infralapsarian understanding of election. However, I am still unclear as to why this is.

    Perhaps I am wrong about all this and not seeing the real differences between the supra position and the infra position. How do I go about getting more clarity on these varying concepts of election? I have read some of the articles at the supralapsarian weblog but it is difficult to pick out the best articles on that site. I have read the Hoeksema essay in infra and supra but I have a hard time seeing how those two understandings of election work themselves out in their implications for other doctrines- especially in regards to the order of salvation and their doctrine of the church. I think the infralapsarian position is similar to the way the Lutherans understood election. It makes faith the thing that unites the elect to Christ. It also ties reprobation of the non-elect to a passive decree in God. Where do I go to get more clarity?

    • David Bishop says:

      Thanks for the comment, John. In regards to your question concerning why so many reformed settled for infralapsarianism when the fact is it would cause so many problems, I think you answered your own question. They don’t see issues like common grace and the free offer as problems. They see them as truths.

      Consider Dort, for example. You’ll find a condemnation of Arminianism in it, while at the same time maintaining brotherhood with Arminians. Hence the influence of ,Davenant’s hypothetical universalism. They took the infra view, because this was the road they needed to take to get to hypothetical universalism.

      We find a similar situation in the Marrow controversy. The majority of reformed folk believe the false accusation of hyper Calvinism leveled by the Marrow men was spot on, because obviously, if you’re not for telling people Jesus is dead for every human being, then you must be against preaching the gospel to unbelievers. They’ll take any road they need to in order to get to where they want to go. Certainly this does not apply to all, but it does to more than less. At Dort they wanted to get to hypothetical universalism, so they chose to use infra to get there. It wasn’t infra that led them into error. It was their error that led them into infra.

      As to your second question, who so you read? You read them. You can only get so far by reading their opposition, people who agree with you. Read in their own words those who don’t. Read Vos, Lane Tipton, Scott Clark. Right now, for instance, Clark has a whole PDF paper on his website detailing why he believes Piper’s rejection of the covenant of works has led him to take a two stage view of justification. He thinks that anyone who rejects the covenant of works will be forced to take a two stage view of justification if they are consistent. Read it. Find out for yourself why he thinks this.

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