Archive for the ‘Decrees’ Category

Supra- and Infralapsarianism

December 5, 2009 Comments off

Louis Berkhof

The doctrine of predestination has not always been presented in exactly the same form. Especially since the days of the Reformation two different conceptions of it gradually emerged, which were designated during the Arminian controversy as Infra- and Supralapsarianism. Already existing differences were more sharply defined and more strongly accentuated as the results of the theological disputes of that day. According to Dr. Dijk the two views under consideration were in their original form simply a difference of opinion respecting the question, whether the fall of man was also included in the divine decree. Was the first sin of man, constituting his fall, predestinated, or was this merely the object of divine foreknowledge? In their original form Supralapsarianism held the former, and Infralapsarianism, the latter. In this sense of the word Calvin was clearly a Supralapsarian. The later development of the difference between the two began with Beza, the successor of Calvin at Geneva. In it the original point in dispute gradually retires into the background, and other differences are brought forward, some of which turn out to be mere differences of emphasis. Later Infralapsarians, such as Rivet, Walaeus, Mastricht, Turretin, a Mark, and de Moor, all admit that the fall of man was included in the decree; and of the later Supralapsarians, such as Beza, Gomarus, Peter Martyr, Zanchius, Ursinus, Perkins, Twisse, Trigland, Voetius, Burmannus, Witsius and Comrie, at least some are quite willing to admit that in the decree of Reprobation God in some way took sin into consideration. We are concerned at present with Supra- and Infralapsarianism in their more developed form.

1. THE EXACT POINT AT ISSUE. It is quite essential to have a correct view of the exact point or points at issue between the two.

a. Negatively, the difference is not found: (1) In divergent views respecting the temporal order of the divine decrees. It is admitted on all hands that the decree of God is one and in all its parts equally eternal, so that it is impossible to ascribe any temporal succession to the various elements which it includes. (2) In any essential difference as to whether the fall of man was decreed or was merely the object of divine foreknowledge. This may have been, as Dr. Dijk says, the original point of difference; but, surely, anyone who asserts that the fall was not decreed but only foreseen by God, would now be said to be moving along Arminian rather than Reformed lines’. Both Supraand Infralapsarians admit that the fall is included in the divine decree, and that preterition is an act of God’s sovereign will. (3) In any essential difference as to the question, whether the decree relative to sin is permissive. There is some difference of emphasis on the qualifying adjective. Supralapsarians (with few exceptions) are willing to admit that the decree relative to sin is permissive, but hasten to add that it nevertheless makes the entrance of sin into the world a certainty. And Infralapsarians (with few exceptions) will admit that sin is included in God’s decree, but hasten to add that the decree, in so far as ft pertains to sin, is permissive rather than positive. The former occasionally over-emphasize the positive element in the decree respecting sin, and thus expose themselves to the charge that they make God the author of sin. And the latter sometimes over-emphasize the permissive character of the decree, reducing it to a bare permission, and thus expose themselves to the charge of Arminianism. As a whole, however, Supralapsarians emphatically repudiate every interpretation of the decree that would make God the author of sin; and Infralapsarians are careful to point out explicitly that the permissive decree of God relative to sin makes sin certainly future. (4) In any essential difference as to the question, whether the decree of reprobation takes account of sin. It is sometimes represented as if God destined some men for eternal destruction, simply by an act of His sovereign will, without taking account of their sin; as if, like a tyrant, He simply decided to destroy a large number of His rational creatures, purely for the manifestation of His glorious virtues. But Supralapsarians abhor the idea of a tyrannical God, and at least some of them explicitly state that, while preterition is an act of God’s sovereign will, the second element of reprobation, namely, condemnation, is an act of justice and certainly takes account of sin. This proceeds on the supposition that logically preterition precedes the decree to create and to permit the fall, while condemnation follows this. The logic of this position may be questioned, but it at least shows that the Supralapsarians who assume it, teach that God takes account of sin in the decree of reprobation.

b. Positively, the difference does concern: (1) The extent of predestination. Supralapsarians include the decree to create and to permit the fall in the decree of predestination, while Infralapsarians refer it to the decree of God in general, and exclude it from the special decree of predestination. According to the former, man appears in the decree of predestination, not as created and fallen, but as certain to be created and to fall; while according to the latter, he appears in it as already created and fallen. (2) The logical order of the decrees. The question is, whether the decrees to create and to permit the fall were means to the decree of redemption. Supralapsarians proceed on the assumption that in planning the rational mind passes from the end to the means in a retrograde movement, so that what is first in design is last in accomplishment. Thus they determine upon the following order: (a) The decree of God to glorify Himself, and particularly to magnify His grace and justice in the salvation of some and the perdition of other rational creatures, which exist in the divine mind as yet only as possibilities, (b) The decree to create those who were thus elected and reprobated, (c) The decree to permit them to fall. (d) The decree to justify the elect and to condemn the non-elect. On the other hand the Infralapsarians suggest a more historical order: (a) The decree to create man in holiness and blessedness, (b) The decree to permit man to fall by the self-determination of his own will, (c) The decree to save a certain number out of this guilty aggregate, (d) The decree to leave the remainder in their self-determination in sin, and to subject them to the righteous punishment which their sin deserves. (3) The extension of the per&onal element of predesti-nation to the decrees to create and to permit the fall. According to Supralapsarians God, even in the decree to create and permit the fall, had His eye fixed on His elect individually, so that there was not a single moment in the divine decree, when they did not stand in a special relation to God as His beloved ones. Infralapsarians, on the other hand, hold that this personal element did not appear in the decree till after the decree to create and to permit the fall. In these decrees themselves the elect are simply included in the whole mass of humanity, and do not appear as the special objects of God’s love.


a. Arguments in favor of it: (1) It appeals to all those passages of Scripture which emphasize the absolute Sovereignty of God, and more particularly His sovereignty in relation to sin, such as Ps. 115:3 ; Prov. 16:4; Isa. 10:15; 45:9 ; Jer. 18:6; Matt. 11:25,26; 20:15 ; Rom. 9:17,19-21. Special emphasis is laid on the figure of the potter, which is found in more than one of these passages. It is said that this figure not merely stresses the sovereignty of God in general, but more especially His sovereignty in determining the quality of the vessels at creation. This means that Paul in Rom. 9 speaks from a pre-creation standpoint, an idea that is favored (a) by the fact that the potter’s’ work is frequently used in Scripture as a figure of creation; and (b) by the fact that the potter determines each vessel for a certain use and gives it a corresponding quality, which might cause the vessel to ask, though withour any right, Why didst Thou make me thus? (2) Attention is called to the fact that Some passages of Scripture suggest that the work of nature or of creation in general was so ordered as’ to contain already illustrations of the work of redemption. Jesus frequently derives His illustrations for the elucidation of spiritual things from nature, and we are told in Matt. 13:35 that this was in fulfilment of the words of the prophet, “I will utter things hidden from the foundation of the world.” Comp. Ps. 78:2. This is taken to mean that they were hidden in nature, but were brought to light in the parabolic teachings of Jesus. Ephesians 3:9 is also considered as an expression of the idea that the design of God in the creation of the world was directed to the manifestation of His wisdom, which would issue in the New Testament work of redemption. But the appeal to this passage seems, to say the least, very doubtful. (3) The order of the decrees, as accepted by the Supralapsarians, is legarded as the more ideal, the more logical and unified of the two. It clearly exhibits the rational order which exists between the ultimate end and the intermediate means. Therefore the Supralapsarians can, while the Infralapsarians cannot, give a specific answer to the question why God decreed to create the world and to permit the fall. They do full justice to the sovereignty of God and refrain from all futile attempts to justify God in the sight of men, while the Infra-Iapsanans’ hesitate, attempt to prove the justice of God’s procedure, and yet in the end must come to the same conclusion as the Supralapsarians, namely, that, in the last analysis, the decree to permit the fall finds its explanation only in the sovereign good pleasure of God.1 (4) The analogy of the predestination of the angels would seem to favor the Supralapsarian position, for it can only be conceived as supralapsarian. God decreed, for reasons sufficient to Himself, to grant some angels the grace of perseverance and to withhold this from others; and to connect with this righteously the confirmation of the former in a state of glory, and the eternal perdition of the latter. This means, therefore, that the decree respecting the fall of the angels forms a part of their predestination. And it would seem impossible to conceive of it in any other way.

b. Objections to it: Notwithstanding its seeming pretensions, it does not give a solution of the problem of sin. It would do this, if it dared to say that God decreed to bring sin into the world by His own direct efficiency. Some Supralapsarians, it is true, do represent the decree as the efficient cause of sin, but yet do not want this to be interpreted in such a way that God becomes the author of sin. The majority of them do not care to go beyond the statement that God willed to permit sin. Now this is no objection to the Supralapsarian in distinction from the Infralapsarian, for neither one of them solves the problem. The only difference is that the former makes greater pretensions in this respect than the latter. (2) According to its representations man appears in the divine decree first as creabilis et labilis (certain to be created and to fall). The objects of the decree are first of all men considered as mere possibilities, as non-existent entities. But such a decree necessarily has only a. provisional character, and must be followed by another decree. After the election and reprobation of these possible men follows the decree to create them and to permit them to fall, and this must be followed by another decree respecting these men whose creation and fall have now been definitely determined, namely, the decree to elect some and to reprobate the rest of those who now appear in the divine purpose as real men. Supralapsarians claim that this’ is no insuperable objection because, while it is true that on their position the actual existence of men has not yet been determined when they are elected and reprobated, they do exist in the divine idea. (3) It is said that Supralapsarianism makes the eternal punishment of the reprobate an object of the divine will in the same sense and in the same manner as’ the eternal salvation of the elect; and that it makes sin, which leads to eternal destruction, a means unto this end in the same manner and in the same sense as the redemption in Christ is a means unto salvation. If consistently carried through, this would make God the author of sin. It should be noted, however, that the Supralapsarian does not, as a rule, so represent the decree, and explicitly states that the decree may not be so interpreted as to make God the author of sin. He will speak of a predestination unto the grace of God in Jesus Christ, but not of a predestination unto sin. (4) Again, it is objected that Supralapsarianism makes the decree of reprobation just as absolute as the decree of election. In other words, that it regards reprobation as purely an act of God’s sovereign good pleasure, and not as an act of punitive justice. According to its representation sin does not come into consideration in the decree of reprobation. But this is hardly correct, though it may be true of some Supralapsarians. In general, however, it may be said that, while they regard pretention as an act of God’s sovereign good pleasure, they usually regard precondemnation as an act of divine justice which does take sin into consideration. And the Infralapsarian himself cannot maintain the idea that reprobation is an act of justice pure and simple, contingent on the sin of man. In the last analysis, he, too, must declare that it is an act of God’s sovereign good pleasure, if he wants to avoid the Arminian camp. (5) Finally, it is said that it is not possible to construe a serviceable doctrine of the covenant of grace and of the Mediator on the basis of the Supralapsarian scheme. Both the covenant and the Mediator of the covenant can only be conceived as infralapsarian. This is frankly admitted by some Supralapsarians. Logically, the Mediator appears in the divine decree only after the entrance of sin; and this is the only point of view from which the covenant of grace can be construed. This will naturally have an important bearing on the ministry of the Word.


a. Arguments in favor of it. (11 Infralapsarians appeal more particularly to those passages of Scripture in which the objects of election appear as in a condition of sin, as being in close union with Christ, and as objects of God’s mercy and grace, such as Matt. 11:25,26; John 15:19; Rom. 8:28,30; 9:15.16; Eph. 1:4-12; II Tim. 1:9. These passages would seem to imply that in the thought of God the fall of man preceded the election of some unto salvation. (2) It also calls attention to the fact that in its representation the order of the divine decrees is less philosophical and more natural than that proposed by Supralapsarians. It is in harmony with the historical order in the execution of the decrees, which would seem to reflect the order in the eternal counsel of God. Just as in the execution, so there is in the decree a causal order. It is more modest to abide by this order, just because it reflects the historical order revealed in Scripture and does not pretend to solve the problem of God’s relation to sin. It is considered to be less offensive in its presentation of the matter and to be far more in harmony with the requirements of practical life.1

(3) While Supralapsarians claim that their construction of the doctrine of the

decrees is the more logical of the two, Infralapsarians make the same claim for

their position. Says Dabney: “The Supralapsarian (scheme) under the pretense of greater symmetry, is in reality the more illogical of the two.”1 It is pointed out that the supralapsarian scheme is illogical in that it makes the decree of election and pretention refer to non-entities, that is, to men who do not exist, except as bare possibilities, even in the mind of God; who do not yet exist in the divine decree and are therefore not contemplated as created, but only as creatable. Again, it is said that the supralapsarian construction is illogical in that it necessarily separates the two elements in reprobation, placing preterition before, and condemnation after, the fall. (4) Finally, attention is also called to the fact that the Reformed Churches in their official standards have always adopted the infralapsarian position, even though they have never condemned, but always tolerated, the other view. Among the members of the Synod of Dort and of the Westminster Assembly there were several Supralapsarians who were held in high honour (the presiding officer in both cases belonging to the number), but in both the Canons of Dort and the Westminster Confession the infralapsarian view finds expression.

b. Objections to it. The following are some of the most important objections raised against Infralapsarianism: (1) It does not give, nor does it claim to give a solution of the problem of sin. But this is equally true of the other view, so that, in a comparison of the two, this cannot very well be regarded as a real objection, though it is sometimes raised. The problem of the relation of God to sin has proved to be insoluble for the one as well as for the other. (2) While Infralapsarianism may be actuated by the laudable desire to guard against the possibility of charging God with being the author of sin, it is, in doing this, always; in danger of overshooting the mark, and some of its representatives have made this mistake. They are averse to the statement that God willed sin, and substitute for it the assertion that He permitted it. But then the question arises as to the exact meaning of this statement. Does it mean that God merely took cognizance of the entrance of sin, without in any way hindering it, so that the fall was in reality a frustration of His plan? The moment the Infralapsarian answers this question in the affirmative, he enters the ranks of the Arminians. While there have been some who took this stand, the majority of them feel that they cannot consistently take this position, but must incorporate the fall in the divine decree. They speak of the decree respecting sin as a permissive decree, but with the distinct understanding that this decree rendered the entrance of sin into the world certain. And if the question be raised, why God decreed to permit sin and thus rendered it certain, they can only point to the divine good pleasure, and are thus in perfect agreement with the Supralapsarian. (3) The same tendency to shield God reveals itself in another way and exposes one to a similar danger. Infralapsarianism really wants to explain reprobation as an act of God’s justice. It is inclined to deny either explicitly or implicitly that it is an act of the mere good pleasure of God. This really makes the decree of reprobation a conditional decree and leads into the Arminian fold. But infra

lapsarians on the whole do not want to teach a conditional decree, and express themselves guardedly on this matter. Some of them admit that it is a mistake to consider reprobation purely as an act of divine justice. And this is perfectly correct. Sin is not the ultimate cause of reprobation any more than faith and good works are the cause of election, for all men are by nature dead in sin and trespasses’. When confronted with the problem of reprobation, Infralapsarians, too, can find the answer only in the good pleasure of God. The k language may sound more tender than that of the Supralapsarians, but is also more apt to be misunderstood, and after all proves to convey the same idea. (4) The Infra-lapsarian position does not do justice to the unity of the divine decree, but represents the different members’ of it too much as disconnected parts. First God decrees to create the world for the glory of His name, which means among other things also that He determined that His rational creatures should live according to the divine law implanted in their hearts and should praise their Maker. Then He decreed to permit the fall, whereby sin enters the world. This seems to be a frustration of the original plan, or at least an important modification of it, since God no more decrees to glorify Himself by the voluntary obedience of all His rational creatures. Finally, there follow the decrees of election.and reprobation, which mean only a partial execution of the original plan.

4. From what was said it would seem to follow that we cannot regard Supra- and Infralapsarianism as absolutely antithetical. They consider the same mystery from different points of view, the one fixing its attention on the ideal or teieological; the other, on the historical, order of the decrees’. To a certain extent they can and must go hand in hand. Both find support in Scripture. Supralapsarianism in those passages which stress the sovereignty of God, and Infralapsarianism in those which emphasize the mercy and justice of God, in connection with election and reprobation. Each has something in its’ favor: the former that it does not undertake to justify God, but simply rests in the sovereign and holy good pleasure of God; and the latter, that it is more modest and tender, and reckons with the demands and requirements of practical life. Both are necessarily inconsistent; the former because it cannot regard sin as a progression, but must consider it as a disturbance of creation, and speaks of a permissive decree; and the latter, since in the last analysis it must also resort to a permissive decree, which makes sin certain. But each one of them also emphasizes an element of truth. The true element in Supralapsarianism is found in its emphasis on the following: that the decree of God is a unit; that God had one final aim in view; that He willed sin in a certain sense; and that the work of creation was immediately adapted to the recreative activity of God. And the true element in Infralapsarianism is, that there is a certain diversity in the decrees of God; that creation and fall cannot be regarded merely as means to an end, but also had great independent significance; and that sin cannot be regarded as an element of progress, but should rather be considered as an element of disturbance in the world. In connection with the study of this’ profound subject we feel that our understanding is limited, and realize that we

grasp only fragments of the truth. Our confessional standards embody the infralapsarian position, but do not condemn Supralapsarianism. It was felt that this view was not necessarily inconsistent with Reformed theology. And the conclusions of Utrecht, adopted in 1908 by our Church, state that, while it is not permissible to represent the supralapsarian view as the doctrine of the Reformed churches in the Netherlands, it is just as little permissible to molest any one who cherishes that view for himself.

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER STUDY. IS a foreknowledge of future events which is not based on the decree possible in God? What is the inevitable result of basing God’s decree on His foreknowledge rather than vice versa, his foreknowledge on His decree? How does the doctrine of the decrees differ from fatalism and from determinism? Does the decree of predestination necessarily exclude the possibility of a universal offer of salvation? Are the decrees of election and reprobation equally absolute and unconditional or not? Are they alike in being causes from which human actions proceed as effects? How is the doctrine of predestination related to the doctrine of the divine sovereignty;— to the doctrine of total depravity;—to the doctrine of the atonement;—to the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints? Do the Reformed teach a predestination unto sin?

LITERATURE: Bavinck, Gere]. Dogm. II, pp. 347J125; Kuyper, Diet. Dogm., De Deo III, pp. 80 258; Vos, Gere). Dogm. I, pp. 81-170; Hodge, Syst. Theol. I, pp. 535-549; II, pp. 315-321; Shedd, Dogm. Theol. I, pp. 393-462; Mastricht, Codgeleerdheit, I, pp. 670-757; Comrie en Holtius, Examen van het Ontwerp van Tolerantie, Samenspraken VI and VII; Turretin, Opera, I, pp. 279-382; Dabney.Syst. and Polem Theol.. pp. 211-216; Miley., Syst. Theol. II, pp. 245-266; Cunningham, Hist. Theol., II, pp. 416-489; Wiggers, Augustinism and Pelagianism, pp. 237- 254; Girardeau, Calvinism and Evangelical Arminianism, pp. 14-412; ibid., The Will in its Theological Relations; Warfield, Biblical Doctrines, pp. 3-67; ibid., Studies in Theology, pp. 117-231; Cole, Calvin’s Calvinism, pp. 25-206; Calvin, Institutes III. Chap. XXI-XXIV; Dijk, De Strijd over Infra-en Supralapsarisme in de Gereformeerde Kerhen van Nederland; ibid., Om ‘t Eeuwig Welbehagen; Fern’nout, De Leer der Uitverkiezing; Polman, De Praedestinatieleer van Augustinus, Thomas van Aquino en Calvijn.



Supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism

November 8, 2009 Comments off

Herman Bavinck

C. The supralapsarian and infralapsarian interpretation of the decree:

(1) Points of agreement. Both agree:

(a) That God is not the Author of sin (supra as well as infra).
(b) That Scripture (not philosophy) is the only source of our knowledge of God’s decree (supra as well as infra).
(c) That man’s fall and punishment is not merely the object of God’s foreknowledge but of his decree and foreordination (infra as well as supra).
(d) That faith is not the cause of the decree of election, neither sin the cause of the decree of reprobation (infra as well as supra).

(2) Points of disagreement:

(a) In general, supralapsarianism places the decree of predestination proper above (supra) the decree to permit the fall (lapsus); while infralapsarianism places the decree of predestination proper below (infra) the decree to permit the fall (lapsus). Hence:





(b) From this general differentiation it becomes clear that supra and infra differ in regard to their presentation of the order in the elements of God’s plan. The logical order according to supra:

1. a decree determining the purpose of all things, namely, the revelation of God’s virtues; specifically, the revelation of his mercy in the salvation of a definite number of possible men; and the revelation of his justice in the perdition of another definite number of possible men
2. a decree to create the men thus elected and reprobated.
3. a decree to permit them to fall.
4. a decree to provide a Mediator for the elect and through him to justify them, and to condemn the reprobate.

The logical order according to infra:

1. a decree to create man in holiness and blessedness.
2. a decree to permit man to fall.
3. a decree to elect some out of this fallen multitude and to leave others in their misery.
4. a decree to bring about the salvation of the elect through Christ. See II, F.

(c) From this again it is apparent that according to supra men viewed as possible or creatable and fallible are the objects of the decree; while, according to infra men viewed as fallen are objects of the decree.

(3) Objections:

(a) To infra:

1. God’s justice does not explain the decree of reprobation. The ultimate ground of reprobation is God’s sovereign will.
2. In order to maintain reprobation as an act of God’s JUSTICE infra places reprobation after the FALL as if in the decree of reprobation God figured only with ORIGINAL sin and not also with ACTUAL sins.

(b) To supra:

1. Supra is correct when it maintains that God’s glory is the final goal of all God’s works, but the manner in which that goal will be realized is not thereby given; it is incorrect to say that in the eternal perdition of the reprobate God reveals his justice only and that in the eternal salvation of the elect he reveals his mercy exclusively.
2. According to supra the decree of predestination has for its object possible men and a possible Redeemer; but just how are we to conceive of a decree concerning possible men whose actual future existence has not even been determined?
3. Supra makes the damnation of the reprobate the object of the divine will IN THE SAME SENSE as the salvation of the elect. This position is not sustained by Scripture.

(c) To both infra and supra:

1. It is incorrect to define the final goal of all things as the revelation of God’s mercy in the elect and of his justice in the reprobate.
2. It is incorrect to represent the lost condition of the reprobate in hell as an object of predestination.
3. Predestination unto eternal death should not be coordinated with predestination unto eternal life, for while certain Individuals constitute the object of reprobation, the human race under a new Head, even Christ, is the object of election.
4. Both supra and infra err when they regard the various elements of God’s counsel as subordinately related to each other.
5. Both are one-sided: supra emphasizing God’s sovereignty; Infra, God’s righteousness, holiness, and mercy.

(4) The author’s conclusion in regard to the whole matter: “God’s decree should not be exclusively described . . . as a straight line to indicate a relation merely of before and after, cause and effect, means and goal; but it should also be viewed as a system the several elements of which are coordinately related to one another. . . . As in an organism all the members are dependent upon one another and in a reciprocal manner determine one another, so also the universe is God’s work of art, the several parts of which are organically related.”

The word “predestination,” has been used in more than one sense: it has been given a broad and a narrow meaning. According to Pelagianism it is merely the decree whereby God, on the ground of foreseen faith and perseverance on the part of some, and foreseen sin and unbelief on the part of others, has determined to give to the former eternal salvation and to the latter eternal punishment. According to this conception, creation, the fall, Christ, the proclamation of the Gospel and the offering of grace to all, persevering faith and unbelief precede predestination and are not included in it but excluded from it; the decree of predestination is no more than the assignment to eternal life or eternal punishment. In this way the most restricted meaning is given to the word predestination, which is then made entirely dependent upon “the bare foreknowledge of God,” is a matter of uncertainty, and is not worthy of the name predestination. In that case not God but man is the maker of history and the arbiter of its destiny. This error has been sufficiently refuted in the former paragraph.

The important difference between infra- and supralapsarianismThe important difference between infra- and supralapsarianism. however, must be given more detailed however, must be given more detailed discussion. At bottom this difference consists in a broader or a more restricted definition of the concept “predestination.” Augustine accepted a twofold restriction of this concept: in his system the decree of predestination follows that concerning creation and the fall, and he generally used the term “predestination” in the favorable sense, as a synonym for “election,” while he gave the preference to the term “foreknowledge” to indicate reprobation: predestination, then, is what God does, namely that which is good; while “foreknowledge” refers to what man does, namely evil. In general, scholasticism, Roman Catholicism, and Lutheranism, accepted this interpretation of the term predestination. Also in the writings of Reformed infralapsarian theologians the decree of creation and of the fall precedes that of election and of reprobation; but while most of them were willing to look upon reprobation as a part of predestination — just so the decree of predestination follows that of the fall — and to speak of a twin or double predestination, others considered it better to conceive of predestination as a synonym for election, and to discuss reprobation separately and under a different name. Now, if the term “foreknowledge” is not used in a Pelagian sense, and if the decree of reprobation is not withdrawn from the province of the will of God, as was done by later Roman Catholic and Lutheran theologians, the difference is not essential but merely verbal. But it is characteristic of infralapsarianism that, in the decree, creation and the fall precede election and reprobation; while supralapsarianism’s concept of predestination is broad enough to include creation and the fall, which are then looked upon as means to an end: the eternal destiny of rational creatures.

In the Reformed Church and in Reformed theology equal recognition has always been given to both supra- and infralapsarianism, viewed as interpretations of the decree of predestination. To be sure, the Dutch confessional standards are infralapsarian; nevertheless, no ecclesiastical assembly, not even the Synod of Dort, has ever troubled the supralapsarians. The Lambeth articles of Confession, purposely leave the question unanswered. Reformed theologians have always granted charter privileges to both conceptions. Spanheim used to say that in the cathedra he was supra, but when he was teaching his congregation he was infra. On the one hand, supralapsarians as well as infralapsarians teach that God is not the Author of sin, but that the cause of sin lies in the will of man. Though, as the Omnipotent One, God predestined the fall, and though, as Supreme Ruler, he executes his plan even by means of sin; nevertheless, he remains holy and righteous; of his own accord man falls and sins: the guilt is his alone. “Man falls according to the appointment of divine providence, but he falls by his own fault.”

Also, the supralapsarians did not arrive at their conception by means of philosophical speculation, but they presented their view because they considered it to come closer to the teaching of Scripture, just as Augustine arrived at the doctrine of predestination through his study of Paul, so Calvin became convinced of the truth of supralapsarianism by means of his reflection on the Scriptural doctrine of sin. According to his own statement he was not giving a philosophy but the truth of God’s Word. On the other hand, Reformed infralapsarian theologians are fully agreed that man’s fall, sin, and the eternal punishment of many was not the object of “bare foreknowledge” but of God’s decree and foreordination. Hence, the difference does not concern the content of God’s counsel.

Both infra- and supralapsarianism deny the freedom of the will, reject the idea that faith is the cause of election and that sin is the cause of reprobation, and thus oppose Pelagianism; both in the final analysis pay homage to God’s sovereignty. The difference concerns only the order of the decrees. Infralapsarians prefer the historical, causal order; supralapsarians defend the ideal, teleological order. The former give a more limited meaning to the concept predestination, and exclude from it a preceding creation, fall, and providence; the latter subsume all the other decrees under predestination. The former emphasizes the manyness, the latter the oneness, of the decree. With the former each of the several decrees has significance by itself; with the latter all the preceding decrees are subordinate to the final decree.

The problem is not solved by means of an appeal to Scripture. Whereas infralapsarianism is supported by all those passages in which election and reprobation have reference to a fallen universe, and are represented as deeds of mercy and of justice, Deut. 7:6-8; Matt. 12:25, 26; John 15:19; Rom. 9:15, 16; Eph. 1:4-12; II Tim. 1:9; supralapsarianism seeks its strength in all those texts that declare God’s absolute sovereignty, especially with reference to sin, Ps. 115:3; Prov. 16:4; Is. 10:15; 45:9; Jer. 18:6; Matt. 20:15; Rom. 9:17, 19-21. The fact that each of the two views leans for support on a certain group of texts without doing full justice to a different group indicates the one-sided character of both theories. Though infralapsarianism deserves praise because of its modesty — it abides by the historical, causal order — and though it seems to be less offensive and though it shows greater consideration for the demands of practical life, it fails to give satisfaction. It is just as difficult to conceive of reprobation as an act of God’s justice as it is thus to conceive of election. Faith and good works, to be sure, are not the cause of election, but neither is sin the cause of reprobation; God’s sovereign good pleasure is the cause of both; hence, in a certain sense, the decree of reprobation always precedes the decree to permit sin. Moreover, if in the divine consciousness the decree of reprobation follows that to permit sin, the question cannot be suppressed, “Then why did God permit sin?” Did this permission consist in a “bare foreknowledge” and was the fall in reality a frustration of God’s plan? But no Reformed theologian, even though he be an infralapsarian, can ever or may ever say this. In a certain sense he must include the fall in God’s decree; he must conceive of it as having been foreordained. But why did God “by an efficacious permission” foreordain the fall? Infralapsarianism can answer this question only by referring to God’s good pleasure, and then it agrees with supralapsarianism. Reprobation cannot be explained as an act of God’s justice, for the first sinful deed at any rate was permitted by God’s sovereignty. Reasoning backward, infralapsarianism finally arrives at the position of supralapsarianism; in case it should be unwilling to admit this, it would have to resort to foreknowledge. Add to all this the fact that infra places the decree of reprobation after the fall, but just where? Is original sin the only sin that is taken into account by the decree of reprobation, and in making this dreadful decree does God leave actual sins entirely out of consideration? If, as infra insists, reprobation must be referred to God’s justice, then instead of placing this decree immediately after the entrance of original sin, why not place it after the complete accomplishment — respectively by each reprobate person — of all actual sins? This is exactly what was done by Arminius — who also included the sin of foreseen unbelief — but such a procedure would never do on the part of a Reformed theologian. Reprobation would then become dependent upon bare foreknowledge, i.e., upon man; man’s sinful deeds would then become the final and deepest cause of reprobation; hence, in order to avoid this error the decree of reprobation was placed immediately after the fall. But by doing this infra becomes supralapsarian with respect to all actual sins: reprobation does not precede original sin, but it does precede all other sin. At first glance infralapsarianism seems to be more moderate and less offensive than supralapsarianism, but deeper study reveals the fact that appearances deceive.

Accordingly, supralapsarianism undoubtedly has in its favor the fact that it refrains from every attempt to justify God, and that both with respect to reprobation and with respect to election it rests in God’s sovereign, incomprehensible, yet wise and holy good pleasure. Nevertheless, it is at least just as unsatisfactory as is infralapsarianism, and perhaps even more so. It wishes to pass for a solution, but in no sense whatever does it give a solution of even a single problem. In the first place, to say that the manifestation of all God’s excellencies is the final goal of all of the ways of God is indeed correct; but when supra includes in that goal the manner in which the divine glory will be revealed in the eternal destiny of rational creatures, it errs. For, the eternal state of salvation or of perdition is not in itself the goal, but one of the means employed in order to reveal God’s excellencies in a manner suited to the creature. It would not do to say that God would have been unable to manifest his glory by saving all men, if this had been his pleasure. Neither is it correct to say that in the eternal state of the reprobate God reveals his justice exclusively, and that in the eternal state of the elect he manifests his mercy exclusively. Also in the church, purchased with the blood of the Son, God’s justice is revealed; and also in the place of perdition there are degrees of punishment and sparks of divine mercy. The final goal of all God’s workto says must needs be his glory, but the manner in which that glory will shine forth is not thereby given, but has been determined by God’s will; and although there were wise and holy reasons why God purposed the perdition of many and not the salvation of all, nevertheless these reasons, though known to him, are not known to us: we are not able to say why God willed to make use of this means and not of another.

A further objection to supralapsarianism is the fact that according to this view the objects of the decree of election and reprobation are men considered merely as possibilities and — as Comrie added — a Christ viewed as a mere possibility. To be sure by some this element has been eliminated from the supralapsarian scheme. But the principle which gave rise to this error still remains. Logic requires that a possible Christ should be added to possible men as the object of election, for in the decree of election the church and its Head, i.e., the saved and the Savior cannot be separated.

But even aside from this, the decree of election and reprobation which has for its object “creatable and fallible men” is not the real, but merely a tentative decree. In the end supralapsarianism is forced to proceed to the infralapsarian order in the elements of the decree. For, following the decree concerning the election and reprobation of these possible men comes the decree to create them and to permit them to fall, and this must be succeeded by another decree respecting these men, who are now no longer viewed as mere possibilities but as realities — even in the decree — viz., to elect some and to reprobate others.

The logic of the supralapsarian scheme is very weak, indeed. Supralapsarianism really differs from infralapsarianism only in this respect, viz., that after the manner of Amyraldism, it prefixes a decree concerning possibilities to the infralapsarian series of decrees. But just how are we to conceive of a decree respecting possible men, whose actual future existence has as yet not been determined? In the consciousness of God there is an infinite number of “possible men,” who will never live. Hence, the decree of election and reprobation has for its object “nonentities,” not definite persons known to God by name.

Finally, there is this difficulty connected with supra, viz., that it makes the eternal punishment of the reprobates an object of the divine will in the same manner and in the same sense as the eternal salvation of the elect; and that it makes sin, which leads to eternal destruction, a means in the same manner and in the same sense as the redemption in Christ is a means unto eternal salvation.

Now Reformed theologians all agree that the entrance of sin and punishment was willed and determined by God. It is perfectly true that words like “permission” and “foreknowledge” do not solve anything. The difficulty remains the same, and the same questions arise; viz., why, if God foreknew everything, did he create man fallible, and why did he not prevent the fall? Why did he allow all men to fall in Adam? Why does he not grant to all men faith and the blessing of hearing the Gospel? In brief, if God foreknows and permits something, he does this either “willingly” or “unwillingly.” The latter is impossible. Accordingly, only the former remains: God’s permission is an “efficacious permission,” an act of his will. Nor should it be supposed that the idea of permission is of any force or value over against the charge that God is the Author of sin; for he who permits or allows someone to sin and to perish in his sin although he was able to prevent him from sinning is just as guilty as he who incites someone to sin. On the other hand, however, all agree that although sin is not “excluded” from the will of God it is, nevertheless, “contrary” to his will; that it is not merely a means to the final goal, but a disturbance in God’s creation; and that Adam’s fall was not a step ahead but a fall in the real sense of the word. It is also a fact that admits of no doubt that, however much logical reasoning may demur, no one is able to suggest other and better words than “permission, foreknowledge, preterition, dereliction,” etc. Even the most outspoken supralapsarian is not able to dispense with these words, neither in the pulpit nor in the cathedra. For, although it be admitted that there is a “predestination unto death,” no Reformed theologian has ever dared to speak of a “predestination unto sin.”

Without any exception all (i.e., Zwingli, Calvin, Beza, Zanchius, Gomarus, Comrie, etc.) have rejected the idea that God is the Author of sin, that man was created unto damnation, that reprobation is the “cause” of sin, and that sin is the “efficient cause” of reprobation; and all have maintained, that the inexorable character of God’s justice is manifest in the decree of reprobation, that reprobation is the “accidental cause” of sin, and that sin is the “sufficient cause” of reprobation, etc. Accordingly and happily, supralapsarianism is always inconsistent: it begins by making a daring leap, but it soon retreats and returns to the previously abandoned position of infralapsarianism. This is very evident from the works of supralapsarians. Nearly all of them hesitate to place the decree of reprobation in its entirety and without any restriction before the decree to permit sin. The Thomists differentiated between a “negative and a positive reprobation”; the former was made to precede creation and fall, the latter was made to follow them. This same distinction, be it in a modified form, recurs in the works of Reformed theologians. Not only do all admit that reprobation should be distinguished from condemnation, which is the execution of that decree, takes place in time, and has sin for its cause; but in the decree of reprobation itself many differentiate between a preceding, general purpose of God to reveal his excellencies, especially his mercy and justice, in certain “creatable and fallible men”; and a subsequent, definite purpose to create these “possible men,” to permit them to fall and to sin, and to punish them for their sins.

Accordingly, neither supra- nor infralapsarianism has succeeded in its attempt to solve this problem and to do justice to the many-sidedness of Scripture. To a certain extent this failure is due to the one-sidedness that characterizes both views.

In the first place it is incorrect, as we stated before, to define the “final goal” of all things as the revelation of God’s mercy in the elect, and of his justice in the reprobate. God’s glory and the manifestation of his excellencies is, to be sure, the final goal of all things; but the double state of salvation and damnation is not included in that final goal, but is related to it as a means. No one is able to prove that this double state must of necessity constitute an element in the final goal of God’s glory. In all his “outgoing works” God always has in view his own glory; but that he seeks to establish this glory in this and in no other way is to be ascribed to his sovereignty and to nothing else. But even aside from this, it is not true that God manifests his justice only in the damnation of the reprobate, and his mercy only in the salvation of the elect, for also in heaven God’s justice and holiness shines forth, and also in hell there is a remnant of his mercy and compassion.

Secondly, it is incorrect to represent the lost condition of the reprobate in hell as an object of predestination. To be sure, sin should not be referred to “bare foreknowledge and permission”; in a certain sense, the fall, sin, and eternal punishment are included in God’s decree and willed by him. But this is true in a certain sense only, and not in the same sense as grace and salvation. These are the objects of his delight; but God does not delight in sin, neither has he pleasure in punishment. When he makes sin subservient to his glory, he does this by means of the exercise of his omnipotence, but to glorify God is contrary to sin’s nature. And when he punishes the wicked, he does not take delight in their sufferings as such, but in this punishment he celebrates, the triumph of his virtues, Deut. 28:63; Ps. 2:4; Prov. 1:26; Lam. 3:33.

Accordingly, though on the one hand, with a view to the all-comprehensive and immutable character of God’s counsel, it is not wrong to speak of a “twofold predestination” (gemina praedestinatio); nevertheless, on the other hand, we must be careful to keep in mind that in the one case predestination is of a different nature than in the other.

“Predestination is the disposition, goal and ordination of the means with a view to a goal. Since eternal damnation is not the goal but merely the termination of a person’s life, therefore reprobation cannot properly be classified under predestination. For these two things are in conflict with each other: to ordain unto a goal and to ordain unto damnation. For by reason of its very nature, every goal is the very best something, the perfection of an object; damnation, however, is the extreme evil and the greatest imperfection; hence the expression `God has predestinated some men unto damnation’ is incorrect.”

Hence, no matter how often and clearly Scripture tells us that sin and punishment were ordained by God, nevertheless, the words “purpose” (prothesis), “foreknowledge” (prognosis) and “foreordination” (proorismos) are used almost exclusively with reference to “predestination unto glory.”

In the third place, there is still another ground for the assertion that those err who coordinate “predestination unto eternal death” with “predestination unto eternal life,” and view the former as a goal in the same sense as the latter; while it is true that certain individuals constitute the object of reprobation, the human race under a new Head, namely Christ, is the object of election; hence, by grace not only certain individuals are saved, but the human race itself together with the entire cosmos is saved. Moreover, we are not to suppose that merely a few of God’s virtues are revealed in this salvation of the human race and of the universe, so that in order to reveal God’s justice the state of eternal perdition must needs be called into being; on the contrary, in the consummated Kingdom of God all of God’s virtues and excellencies are unfolded: his justice and his grace, his holiness and his love, his sovereignty and his mercy. Hence, this “state of glory” is the real and direct end of creation, though even this goal is subordinate to the exaltation of God.

In the fourth place, both supra and infra err when they regard the various elements of the decree as standing in subordinate relation to each other. Now it is true, of course, that the means are subordinate to the final end in view, but from this it does not follow that they are subordinate to one another. Creation is not a mere means toward the fall, neither is the fall a mere means toward grace and perseverance, nor are these in turn merely means toward salvation and perdition. We should never lose sight of the fact that the decrees are as rich in content as the entire history of the universe, for the latter is the unfoldment of the former. The history of the universe can never be made to fit into a little scheme of logic. It is entirely incorrect to suppose that of the series: creation, fall, sin, Christ, faith, unbelief, etc., each constituent is merely a means toward the attainment of the next, which as soon as it is present renders the former useless. As Twissus already remarked, “The different elements of the decree do not stand to one another in a relation merely of subordination, but they are also coordinately related.”

It is certainly wrong to suppose that the sole purpose of creation was to produce the fall; on the contrary, by means of God’s creative activity a universe that will remain even in the state of glory was called into being. The fall took place not only in order that there might be a “creature in the condition of misery,” but together with all its consequences it will retain its significance. Christ not merely became a Mediator, which would have been all that was necessary for the expiation of sin, but he was also ordained by God to be the Head of the church. The history of the universe is not a mere means which loses its value as soon as the end of the age is reached, but it has influence and leaves fruits, for eternity. Moreover, here on earth we should not conceive of election and reprobation as two straight and parallel lines; on the contrary, in the unbeliever there is much that is not the result of reprobation, and in the believer there is much that should not be ascribed to election. On the one hand, both election and reprobation presuppose sin, and are deeds of mercy and of justice, Rom. 9:15; Eph. 1:4; on the other hand both are also deeds of divine right and sovereignty, Rom. 9:11, 17, 21. So, Adam even before the fall is a type of Christ, I Cor. 15:47ff.; nevertheless, in Scripture the fact of the incarnation always rests upon the fall of the human race, Heb. 2:14ff.

At times Scripture expresses itself so strongly that reprobation and election are coordinated, and God is represented as having purposed eternal perdition as well as eternal salvation, Luke 2:34; John 3:19-21; I Pet. 2:7, 8; Rom. 9:17, 18, 22, etc.; but in other passages eternal death is entirely absent in the description of the future; the victorious consummation of the kingdom of God, the new heaven and earth, the new Jerusalem in which God will be all and in all is pictured to us as the end of all things, I Cor. 15; Rev. 21, 22; the universe is represented as existing for the church, and the church for Christ, I Cor. 3 :21-23; and reprobation is completely subordinated to election.

Accordingly, neither the supra- nor the infralapsarian view of predestination is able to do full justice to the truth of Scripture, and to satisfy our theological thinking.

The true element in supralapsarianism is: that it emphasizes the unity of the divine decree and the fact that God had one final aim in view, that sin’s entrance into the universe was not something unexpected and unlooked for by God but that he willed sin in a certain sense, and that the work of creation was immediately adapted to God’s redemptive activity so that even before the fall, i.e., in the creation of Adam, Christ’s coming was definitely fixed.

And the true element in infralapsarianism is: that the decrees manifest not only a unity but also a diversity (with a view to their several objects), that these decrees reveal not only a teleological but also a causal order, that creation and fall cannot merely be regarded as means to an end, and that sin should be regarded not as an element of progress but rather as an element of disturbance in the universe so that in and by itself it cannot have been willed by God. In general, the formulation of the final goal of all things in such a manner that God reveals his justice in the reprobate and his mercy in the elect is too simple and incomplete. The “state of glory” will be rich and glorious beyond all description. We expect a new heaven, a new earth, a new humanity, a renewed universe, a constantly progressing and undisturbed unfoldment. Creation and the fall, Adam and Christ, nature and grace, faith and unbelief, election and reprobation — all together and each in its own way — are so many factors, acting not only subsequently to but also in coordination with one another, collaborating with a view to that exalted state of glory. Indeed, even the universe as it now exists together with its history, constitutes a continuous revelation of God’s virtues. It is not only a means toward a higher and richer revelation that is still future, but it has value in itself. It will continue to exert its influence also in the coming dispensation, and it will continue to furnish material for the exaltation and glorification of God by a redeemed humanity. Accordingly, between the different elements of the decree — as also between the facts of the history of the universe — there is not only a causal and teleological but also an organic relation.

Because of the limited character of our reasoning powers we must needs proceed from the one or from the other viewpoint; hence, the advocates of a causal world and life-view and the defenders of a teleological philosophy are engaged in continual warfare. But this disharmony does not exist in the mind of God. He sees the whole, and surveys all things in their relations. All things are eternally present in his consciousness. His decree is a unity: it is a single conception. And in that decree all the different elements assume the same relation which a posteriori we even now observe between the facts of history, and which will become fully disclosed in the future. This relation is so involved and complicated that neither the adjective “supralapsarian” nor “infralapsarian” nor any other term is able to express it. It is both causal and teleological: that which precedes exerts its influence upon that which follows, and that which is still future already determines the past and the present. There is a rich, all-sided “reciprocity.”

Predestination, in the generally accepted sense of that term: the foreordination of the eternal state of rational creatures and of all the means necessary to that end, is not the sole, all-inclusive and all-comprehensive, purpose of God. It is a very important part of God’s decree but it is not synonymous with the decree. God’s decree or counsel is the main concept because it is all-comprehensive; it embraces all things without any exception: heaven and earth, spirit and matter, visible and invisible things, organic and inorganic creatures; it is the single will of God concerning the entire universe with reference to the past, the present, and the future. But predestination concerns the eternal state of rational creatures, and the means thereto: but not all things that ever come into being nor all events that ever happen can be included in these means. Hence, in a previous paragraph we discussed “providence” as a thing by itself, although the relation between it and predestination was clearly shown. In the doctrine of God’s decree common grace should receive a much more detailed discussion than was formerly the case, and should be recognized in its own rights.

Briefly stated, God’s decree together with the history of the universe which answers to it should not be exclusively described — after the manner of infra- and supralapsarianism — as a straight line indicating a relation merely of before and after, cause and effect, means and goal; but it should also be viewed as a system the several elements of which are coordinately related to one another and cooperate with one another toward that goal which always was and is and will be the deepest ground of all existence, namely, the glorification of God. As in an organism all the members are dependent upon one another and in a reciprocal manner determine one another, so also the universe is God’s work of art, the several parts of which are organically related. And of that universe, considered in its length and breadth, the counsel or decree of God is the eternal idea.