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§ 30. Benevolence of God.

The gracious will of God, to deliver fallen men from their ruined condition, is the first thing we have to consider, for it is this that originates the sending of the Son, who accomplishes the redemption, and the sending of the Holy Spirit, who applies it to individual persons. This, His gracious will, God at once announced in His promise (recorded in Gen. 3:15). But God did not then, for the first time, form this purpose of redeeming man; for, as He foresaw from eternity that he would fall, He determined at the same time both to create and to redeem him. [2] This purpose of God, however, will, in time, be accomplished only in the case of those who fulfil the condition upon which redemption is to be applied. Therefore we distinguish this gracious will of God into general and special benevolence. I. The gracious will of God is called the universal or general will (benevolence) when it is considered in itself, as it refers to all men alike miserable, and it is exhibited in preparing the means of redemption for all, and effectually offering the same to them, without for the present considering the manner in which men treat the grace thus offered to them. [3] HOLL. (586): “The universal benevolence of God is that act of divine grace by which God, having witnessed the common misery of fallen men, is moved not only earnestly to desire the salvation of them all, but also to give Christ as Mediator for its accomplishment, and to appoint appropriate and efficacious means with the intention that all men should use them, attain through them true faith in Christ, and possess and enjoy eternal salvation, procured through Him, to the praise of the divine goodness.” This will is also called antecedent, inasmuch as, in the nature of the case, it antedates all question as to the manner in which man may treat the offered grace. [4] It refers to all men alike (universally to all, without a single exception. John 3:16; 1 Tim. 2:4; Rom. 11:32; Acts 17:30, 31; Tit. 2:11; 2 Pet. 3:9; Ezek 33:11), [5] depends alone upon God’s compassion for the wretched condition of man, and has in no sense been called forth by any merit or worthiness of man. [6] This will of God, moreover, earnestly and sincerely proposes that all men obtain salvation through Christ, [7] and God offers unto all the necessary means, and is ready to render these available for them. [8] Meanwhile this will of God is still not as absolute and unconditional as is the compassion of God towards man, from which the plan of salvation has proceeded; that is, this will of God aims at saving men through the merits of Christ and the appropriation of the means of redemption as furnished to them. [9] The statements concerning the universal will of God may accordingly be summed up under the following characteristics: It is (1) gratuitous and free (Gal. 3:22; Rom. 11:32; 8:32); (2) impartial (Rom. 3:22); (3) sincere and earnest (Ezek. 18:23, 32; 33:11): (4) efficacious (Rom. 2:4); (5) not absolute, but ordinate and conditioned (John 3:16; 1 Tim. 2:6; Rom. 5:8; 1 John 1:4, 9, 10. [10] The universal will of God is distinguished from — II. The Special Will of God. — Thus this same [11] will of God in reference to the salvation of men is designated, when we view it in connection with the divinely foreseen conduct of men towards the offered grace, as the condition upon which they are to be saved. HOLL. (586): “This special benevolence of God is that which induced Him to bestow eternal salvation upon sinners who embrace the means of salvation offered to them.” Although the will of God is general, inasmuch as God’s disposition is equally gracious toward all men, and inasmuch as for their salvation He has prepared a plan of redemption in the sending of His Son, available equally for all; yet it already follows from the above distinction, according to which the general will of God is not absolute, but ordinate and conditioned, that the accomplishment of this gracious will is conditioned by the conduct of man towards the offered grace. If the aim of the will of God, considered in itself, without regard to this conduct of men, be that all are to be saved by the plan of redemption through Christ, yet its aim, more specifically described, is that only those shall be saved who accept of the salvation offered and persevere therein, and it refers only to these. This will of God, thus more specifically described (the special will of God), is also called consequent, because the divine foreknowledge of the proper conduct on the part of man precedes it; and it is also designated as particular, because it refers not to all men, but only to those to whom God foreknows that they will properly treat the offered grace. [12] (Eph. 1:1; James 2:5; Rev. 2:10; 1 Tim. 1:16; John 17:20.) From this special benevolence of God, which is based upon the universal benevolence of God, and proceeds from it, there comes forth the purpose of God, [13] which is called predestination [14] or election; [15] the purpose, namely, to save through the merits of Christ the definite number of those whose right treatment of the offered grace God had foreseen. HOLL. (604): “Predestination is the eternal decree of God to bestow eternal salvation upon all of whom God foresaw that they would finally believe in Christ.” [16] In virtue of the universal benevolence, salvation is provided for and offered to all, but the purpose of redemption is accomplished not with all, but only in the case of a definite number of men; the reason of this, however, lies in the special benevolence, in virtue of which only those really are to be saved who truly accept by faith the offered salvation, and persevere in this faith. [17] But God, by His foreknowledge, eternally foresees who these will be, and this foreknowledge is the ground upon which the purpose of God, embracing only a definite number of men, is eternal. [18] The decree of God is still further defined as (1), not absolute, but ordinate (determined by a certain order of means) and relative (1 Cor. 1:21), [19] i.e., there is no arbitrariness on the part of God, if He include a number of persons among the elect, and exclude others, for His purpose depends upon the observance of the order to which salvation is bound (“The apostle does not say that God absolutely wills to save all, in whatsoever manner they may conduct themselves, but that God wills that all may be saved, that is, by certain means.” QUEN.), and He has respect, therefore, in forming His purpose, to man’s conduct towards this appointed order of salvation. But this decree is also (2), not conditional, but categorical and simple, i.e., God does not allow it to be still doubtful, in time, whether He will bestow salvation upon this or that man, as though His purpose were only to save this or that man, if or after he may have laid hold upon the merit of Christ; but, by virtue of His foreknowledge, He recognizes in advance those who will lay hold upon the merit of Christ, and only to these does His purpose refer, and thus it is simple and categorical. [20] Hence it follows, therefore, also (3), that the election (taken in its strictest sense), because it rests upon an eternal decree of God, is immutable and irrevocable (so that an elect person cannot become a reprobate, Matt. 25:34; James 2:5; Matt. 24:24; 1 Pet. 1:2, 4; John 10:28; Dan 12:1; Rom. 8:29, 30); for God would not have correctly foreseen if His purpose would have to suffer change (election is immutable, because based upon an ordinate decree and because of the infallibility of the divine foreknowledge). Though the elect may for a while fall into sin and from grace, this cannot continue forever, and they cannot fail of eternal salvation. [21] The attributes or adjuncts of election and of the elect may be thus compendiously stated (QUEN., III, 20): “I. The attributes of election: (a) Eternity (Eph. 1:4; 2 Tim. 1:9; 2 Thess. 2:13; Matt. 25:34); (b) Particularity (Matt. 20:16); (c) Immutability (2 Tim. 2:19; Matt. 24:24; 1 Pet. 1:4; Rom. 8:29, 30). “II. The attributes of the elect: (a) Paucity (Matt. 20:16: 22:14; (b) Possibility of totally losing, for a while, indwelling grace (Ps. 51:12; 1 Cor. 10:12); (c) The certainty of election [22] (Luke 10:20; Rom. 8:38; 2 Tim. 4:8: Phil. 2:12); (d) Final perseverance in the faith (Matt. 10:22; Rev. 2:10).” In contrast with predestination stands reprobation. [23] As God foreknows those who will preseveringly believe in Christ; and as, in view of this, He forms His purpose to save these, so also, in the same way, His purpose of condemnation embraces the definite number of those who are lost; and therefore reprobation is “that act of the consequent divine will by which God (before the foundation of the world) through His vindicative justice, and for its perpetual glory, adjudged to eternal condemnation all contumacious sinners, of whom He foresaw that they would finally reject the proffered grace of the call and of justification, and would depart this life without faith in Christ.” (HOLL. 643.) All the specifications referring to this topic correspond to those given concerning Predestination. The “internal exciting cause is the vindicative or punitive justice of God (Rom. 2:8); the external exciting cause is the rejection of the merit of Christ, i.e., the foreseen apistia or final incredulity (Mark 16:16; John 3:36).” [24] The form of reprobation, however, consists in “exclusion from the inheritance of eternal salvation, and in adjudication to eternal punishment according to the purpose and foreknowledge of God (Matt. 25:41).” Thus the attributes of reprobation and of the reprobate correspond to those of election and the elect. The attributes of reprobation are: (a) Eternity (Matt. 25:41; Jude 5:4); (b) Immutability (Numb. 23:19; 1 Sam. 15:29; Mal. 3:6).” The attributes of the reprobate are: “(a) Plurality (Matt. 7:13); (b) Possibility of being for awhile in the state of the truly regenerate; (c) Perseverance in final unbelief.” OBSERVATION I. — The foregoing representation, as here developed, belongs to the later period. GRH. is the first who, with special reference to earlier scholastic distinctions, presented the doctrine in this form; while the earlier theologians, in their statement of this doctrine, adhered to the definition which in Note 14 we designate as the second. That is as follows: “God determined from eternity to save those who would believe upon Christ.” Thus the FORM. CONC. When, however, the later theologians undertook systematically to present what can be said concerning predestination, the statement of the FORM. CONC. did not seem to them sufficient, because the purpose of God to save all who would believe on Christ could not be so indefinite in His own mind as was expressed by the words, “all those who would believe.” This purpose of God, they supposed, must rather be so positive that the definite number of those who should be saved must be known to Him, as otherwise it might be maintained that God would allow it to remain undecided until in the course of time which persons are to be saved; which would be inconsistent with the assumed eternity of the purpose. From this effort to express themselves accurately originated the definition of predestination in the strictest sense, as also the distinction between proqesiß and proorismoß. But to avoid the error of assuming that, if the number of the elect was fixed from eternity, their reception among that number in time was for that reason no longer conditioned by the conduct of men with reference to the offered grace, but depended upon an absolute and hidden decree of God, the further specification was added, that God, by virtue of His foreknowledge, antedating the purpose itself, from eternity foresaw who those would be who would accept the offered grace. (A specification which, indeed, is not unknown to the FORM. CONC., cf. Sol. Dec. XI, 54, but which was not then introduced into the definition of predestination.) And then there was added by the later theologians the distinction between the general and special will of God, which was meant to show that the will of God to save was, indeed, in itself considered, and without reference to the conduct of men, general and applicable to all; but that, as the actual conferring of salvation was dependent upon the conduct of men with reference to it, as soon as reference was had to this, it then became special, and referred then only to those who conducted themselves properly with reference to the offered salvation. By all these further specifications, however, the doctrine of predestination was only more accurately stated, and not in any wise altered. OBSERVATION II. — The question, whether the foreknowledge of God does not necessarily determine the fate of men, so that human freedom is thereby abolished, is not discussed by any of the theologians in this connection. CHMN. (Loc. c., I, 162) endeavors, in the discussion of the cause of sin, to meet the above objection by remarking that the foreknowledge is no act of the will, and that therefore the future is not determined by it. “The fact, whether past or future, does not depend upon knowledge, but knowledge upon the fact, . . . and it was rightly said by Origen, ‘yet we judge by common consent concerning foreknowledge, not that anything will happen because God knows that it will, but that, because it will happen, God already knows it.’” And so also the later Dogmaticians. QUEN. (I, 539): “That same divine foreknowledge or foresight does not depend upon any divine decree, nor does it of itself impose any necessity upon things foreseen, nor remove their contingency, although in itself it is certain and infallible.” (Compare the specific statements in § 21, Note 4.) The FORM. CONC. appears to regard this question as belonging to the domain of the inexplicable and mysterious, the prying into which constitutes no part of human duty. Sol. Dec. XI, 54, 55. [1] HUTT. (l. c., 768, sq.) introduces the doctrine with the following words: “The apostle in his golden epistle to the Romans, having treated the subject of Divine Predestination very extensively and accurately, at length, as though having passed into a stupor, as he surveys somewhat more deeply the exhaustless abyss of the divine mysteries about this article, breaks forth in the almost unaccustomed exclamation: ‘O the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are His judgments, and His ways past finding out.’ Rom. 11:33. This exclamation has caused most of the orthodox Fathers to treat the article of Predestination too cautiously and briefly; and even to-day there are some who regard its consideration imprudent and useless, nay, rather troublesome and painful; who affirm that it cannot be presented, in an assembly of hearers, without great danger; and who apply to this the trite proverb, Noli me tangere. While we, indeed, think that the modesty and care of the ancient Fathers deserve praise, we, at the same time, neither can nor ought, in any way, to approve the excessively severe judgment of some later teachers. For if the consideration of this article ought to be regarded imprudent, certainly Christ and the apostles can scarcely be defended from the suspicion of temerity, since they often, and indeed accurately and publicly, presented and explained to their hearers the subject of Predestination. If you except the one article of Justification, there is scarcely any other theological topic which the Holy Spirit has so fully unfolded in the Scriptures of the New Testament, Matt. 28:22, 31; Mark 13;20, 22, 27; Luke 18:7; Job 13:18; 15:16; Rom. 8:30; and almost the entire ninth, tenth and eleventh chapters; 1 Cor. 1:27, 28; Eph. 1:4, 5; Col. 3:42; 2 Thess. 2:13; 2 Tim. 1:9; 2:10; Tit. 1:1; 1 Pet. 1:2; Rev. 17:14. As, therefore, those things which God has wished to be secret are not to be investigated, so those things which He has revealed are not to be denied or concealed; in order that we may not be found unlawfully curious in regard to the former, or culpably ungrateful in regard to the latter. . . . These matters being considered in such a manner that we can be occupied, profitably and with a good conscience, in the explanation of the mystery of eternal predestination, we are thoroughly convinced, nevertheless, that, just as we confine ourselves within the bounds and limits of the Divine Word, we will err neither in excess nor defect. But here we must especially observe the caution, to attend well to the source whence judgment concerning this article can and should be sought and framed. Moreover, the Book of Christian Concord teaches correctly, that outside of and beyond the Word of God no place for weighing this mystery should be left for human reason. . . . Furthermore, neither is Predestination to be sought immediately in God Himself, whom no one has ever seen. But it is the Word of God alone from which the entire treatment of this mystery is to be solely sought; as, in it, nothing has been omitted that at all pertains to the mystery of our salvation and election: nay, rather, according to the testimony of the apostle, the whole counsel of God has been revealed in it to us. Acts 20:27. . . . This Word is nothing else than the Gospel of Christ. As, therefore, we have the will of God revealed in the Word of the Gospel, we declare that this itself must be considered the eternal and immutable decree; and the counsel and purpose of God is the ground both of our eternal election and salvation, because in God there are not contradictory wills.” FORM. CONC. (Sol. Dec. XI, 9, sq.): “Still this eternal election or ordination of God to life eternal must be considered not merely in that secret, heavenly, and inscrutable counsel of God, as though the election comprehended or required nothing more, and in thinking upon it nothing more required to be taken into account than the fact that God has foreseen what men and how many will attain salvation, and who and how many will perish eternally, or as though the Lord would make a military review, and would say or determine, ‘This one is to be saved, but that one is to be damned; this one shall persevere steadfast in faith to the end, but that one shall not persevere.’ For, from this opinion, many derive absurd, dangerous, and pernicious thoughts, which produce and strengthen, in the minds of men, either security and impenitence or distress and despair. . . . (13) Wherefore, as we wish to think or speak correctly and with profit concerning the eternal election or predestination and ordination of the sons of God to eternal life, let us accustom ourselves not to endeavor, by our reason, to investigate the mere, secret foreknowledge of God, which no man has explored and learned to know. But let us meditate upon the divine election according to the manner in which the counsel, purpose, and ordination of God are revealed to us, through the Word, in Christ Jesus (who is the true Book of Life). Therefore, let us comprehend at the same time, in thought, the whole doctrine concerning the purpose, counsel, will, and ordination of God (namely, all things which pertain to our redemption, call, justification, and salvation).” [2] GRH. (IV, 146): “After Adam with all his descendants had been ensnared, by the Fall, in the toils of eternal death, and no other remedy could be found for this evil, by the wisdom either of men or angels; God, coming forth from the secret seat of His majesty, revealed the adorable mystery concerning the restoration of the human race, through His Son, Gen. 3:15. From the fact, therefore, that God, in fulfillment of this first promise, sent in the fulness of time His own Son, born of a woman, Gal. 4:4, we infer that God from eternity had made a decree concerning sending His Son into the flesh, that, by His obedience and satisfaction, the wounds might be healed, which the infernal serpent had inflicted upon man, and the blessings lost by the Fall might be restored.” [3] QUEN. (III, 1): “The most kind and merciful, universal will of God the Father towards fallen men embraces within its bounds all men in general who have been placed in misery, and has, according to our method of conception, two acts; of which the first is the pity of God, by which He inwardly and sincerely lamented that the human race, and indeed the whole of it, had been deceived so basely by the fraud of the devil, and, through the Fall, had been cast into instant, and that, too, eternal ruin; and by which He willed to deliver it from evil, and, provided it could be done without any injury to His justice, to recover for the same its lost salvation. The second act is that by which God, moved by this pity and love to man, made a decree concerning the liberation of the human race, through the sending of His Son, and the revelation of the same through the Gospel, to the end that all might believe in Him and thus be saved. For upon the interposition of His Son, offering and promising a most perfect satisfaction, God mercifully ordained from eternity in His Son to restore all, and give them eternal life.” [4] GRH. (IV, 169): “The antecedent will is so named, because it precedes the consideration of the obedience and disobedience of men, and consists simply in that aspect of the divine will in which we regard the beneficent will of God as disposing itself equally towards all.” HOLL. (586): “The antecedent will is that by which God wills the salvation of all fallen and wretched men, and for attaining this has given Christ as a mediator, and has ordained those means by which the salvation acquired through Christ, and the strength for believing, are offered to all men with the sincere intention of conferring such salvation and faith.” [5] HUTT. (Loc. c., 792): “In this antecedent will of love and mercy in God, not even a single individual of the entire human race has been neglected or passed by, even the son of perdition not being excepted, John 17:12. The full force of this assertion is, that God desired the salvation of all mortals,; that he destined His Son as the Redeemer for the whole world equally; that He willed to offer these blessings to all in common, even to those who indeed do not actually hear this Word, who do not actually believe, who are not actually saved; yea, even to those who God foreknew would not hear His Word, would never believe, and also never be saved.” The passages which ordinarily are quoted against the universality of grace, are Rom. 9:18, 19; 9:11-13, 22. In reference to Rom. 9:19, QUEN. (III, 12): “From this passage the Calvinists frame an argument like this: ‘The will of which Paul speaks is absolute. But it is the will to save and to destroy, of which Paul speaks. Therefore, the will to save and to destroy is absolute.’ Reply: The minor premise is false. For, indeed, it is the same will in both cases; yet there is a difference between willing the same absolutely, and with a condition.” In reference to Rom. 9:28, HOLL. (594): “(a) THe apostle speaks not of the general, or universal, but of the special mercy of God, by which He justifies those believing in Christ (v. 30), and therefore he does not treat of the antecedent but of the consequent will of God. (b) The mercy of God is indeed free, but it is not absolute. . . . (c) God hardens whom He wills by sending upon them hardness, not causatively but judicially.” . . . In reference to Rom. 9:11-13 (QUEN. III, 12): “(a) The text does not speak of Esau and Jacob, in their persons, but of their descendants. . . . (b) It does not give this testimony with reference to eternal predestination to salvation, or reprobation to destruction. Therefore, the Calvinists are inconsiderate in assuming that the love for Jacob, and the hatred towards Esau, relate to love of the former for life, eternal and absolute, and the reprobation of the latter to death eternal and absolute; but the apostle treats, Rom. 9:10, 11, of the rejection of the Jews from the outward superiority which they enjoyed in the course of so many ages, and the reception by the Gentiles of those prerogatives which the Jews claimed for themselves alone. If the discussion had been concerning election, from the opinion of the Calvinists this absurdity would follow, viz., that all the descendants of Jacob have been saved, and, on the other hand, all the descendants of Esau have been condemned. Therefore the sense of the passage is: I have not brought or granted as much blessing to the descendants of Esau as I have to the descendants of Jacob, and thus I have preferred the latter to the former; I have loved them less (the word hatred is thus employed, Luke 14:27; Matt. 10:37).” In reference to Rom. 9:22, “From these words it is clear that God has indeed prepared vessels of mercy for glory, but vessels of wrath are not said to have been prepared by God, but to have been tolerated by God with much long suffering. Wherefore, men hardened not by God, but by themselves, and by their own wickedness and voluntary perversity, have become vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, because they despise the counsel of God against themselves, Luke 7:30.” [6] HOLL. (599): “The mercy of God has been called forth by no merits, Gal. 3:22; Rom. 11:32. Pity for the sinner does not move God causally, but only affords an occasion, and presents an object for pity, towards which, while He is able, yet He is under no obligation, to exercise filanqropia. For in man there is no impelling cause whatever.” [7] HOLL. (599): “The benevolence of God towards the fallen human race has not been feigned or counterfeited, but is earnest and sincere; because, in the caring for human salvation, the will of the sign conspires most harmoniously with the will of the divine purpose, the precept and promise with the divine intention. He acts the hypocrite who promises one thing with his mouth and another with his heart; to think this of God is a crime.” HUTT. (Loc. c., 792): “The truth of this statement is evident from clear testimonies of Scripture, 1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9; Matt. 23:37; Ez. 18:32. Finally, the same is manifest from the use of the oath in most solemn attestation, Ez. 33:11.” [8] HOLL. (599): “The benevolence of God is not an empty vow, a fruitless wish, an indifferent complacency, by which one does not long to effect or obtain the thing which pleases him and which in itself he loves, and, therefore, is not willing to employ the means leading to that end; but it is an efficacious desire, by which God seriously intends, through sufficient and efficacious means, to effect and obtain the salvation of men, in which He is most ardently delighted, Rom. 2:4. The antithesis of the Calvinists states that God indeed, by His will, manifested in Scripture, or that of the sign (signi), wishes all to be saved; but by His secret will, which they call that of His purpose (beneplaciti), that He wishes to save the elect alone.” (QUEN., III, 7.) CF.

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