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§ 2. Supralapsarianism.

First, the supralapsarian scheme. According to this view, God in order to manifest his grace and justice selected from creatable men (i.e., from men to be created) a certain number to be vessels of mercy, and certain others to be vessels of wrath. In the order of thought, election and reprobation precede the purpose to create and to permit the fall. Creation is in order to redemption. God creates some to be saved, and others to be lost.

This scheme is called supralapsarian because it supposes that men as unfallen, or before the fall, are the objects of election to eternal life, and foreordination to eternal death. This view was introduced among a certain class of Augustinians even before the Reformation, but has not been generally received. Augustine himself, and after him the great body of those who adopt his system of doctrine, were, and are, infralapsarians. That is, they hold that it is from the mass of fallen men that some were elected to eternal life, and some for the just punishment of their sins, foreordained to eternal death. The position of Calvin himself as to this point has been disputed. As it was not in his day a special matter of discussion, certain passages may be quoted from his writings which favour the supralapsarian and other passages which favour the infralapsarian view. In the “Consensus Genevensis,” written by him, there is an explicit assertion of the infralapsarian doctrine After saying that there was little benefit in speculating on the foreordination of the fall of man, he adds, “Quod ex damnata Adæ sobole Deus quos visum est eligit, quos vult reprobat, sicuti ad fidem exercendam longe aptior est, ita majore fructu tractatur.274274Niemeyer, Collectio Confessionum, p. 269.


In the “Formula Consensus Helvetica,” drawn up as the testimony of the Swiss churches in 1675, whose principal authors were Heidegger and Turrettin, there is a formal repudiation of the supralapsarian view. In the Synod of Dort, which embraced delegates from all the Reformed churches on the Continent and in Great Britain, a large majority of the members were infralapsarians, Gomarus and Voetius being the prominent advocates of the opposite view. The canons of that synod, while avoiding any extreme statements, were so framed as to give a symbolical authority to the infralapsarian doctrine. They say:275275Caput I. art. 1; Acta Synodi, edit. Dort., 1620, p. 241.Cum omnes homines in Adamo peccaverint et rei sint facti maledictionis et mortis æteternæ, Deus nemini fecisset injuriam, si universum genus humanum in peccato et maledictione relinquere, ac propter peccatum damnare voluisset.” The same remark applies to the Westminster Assembly. Twiss, the Prolocutor of that venerable body, was a zealous supralapsarian; the great majority of its members, however, were on the other side. The symbols of that Assembly, while they clearly imply the infralapsarian view, were yet so framed as to avoid offence to those who adopted the supralapsarian theory. In the “Westminster Confession,”276276Chapter iii. sections §§ 6, 7. it is said that God appointed the elect unto eternal life, and “the rest of mankind, God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of his own will, whereby He extendeth or withholdeth mercy as He pleaseth, for the glory of his sovereign power over his creatures, to pass by, and to ordain them to dishonour and wrath for their sin, to the praise of his glorious justice.” It is here taught that those whom God passes by are “the rest of mankind;” not the rest of ideal or possible men, but the rest of those human beings who constitute mankind, or the human race. In the second place, the passage quoted teaches that the non-elect are passed by and ordained to wrath “for their sin.” This implies that they were contemplated as sinful before this foreordination to judgment. The infralapsarian view is still more obviously assumed in the answers to the 19th and 20th questions in the “Shorter Catechism.” It is there taught that all mankind by the fall lost communion with God, and are under his wrath and curse, and that God out of his mere good pleasure elected some (some of those under his wrath and curse), unto everlasting life. Such has been the doctrine of the great body of Augustinians from the time of Augustine to the present day.


Objections to Supralapsarianism.

The most obvious objections to the supralapsarian theory are, (1.) That it seems to involve a contradiction. Of a Non Ens, as Turrettin says, nothing can be determined. The purpose to save or condemn, of necessity must, in the order of thought, follow the purpose to create. The latter is presupposed in the former, (2.) It is a clearly revealed Scriptural principle that where there is no sin there is no condemnation. Therefore there can be no foreordination to death which does not contemplate its objects as already sinful. (3.) It seems plain from the whole argument of the Apostle in Rom. ix. 9-21, that the “mass” out of which some are chosen and others left, is the mass of fallen men. The design of the sacred writer is to vindicate the sovereignty of God in the dispensation of his grace. He has mercy upon one and not on another, according to his own good pleasure, because all are equally unworthy and guilty. The vindication is drawn, not only from the relation of God to his creatures as their Creator, but also from his relation to them as a sovereign whose laws they have violated. This representation pervades the whole Scriptures. Believers are said to be chosen “out of the world;” that is, out of the mass of fallen men. And everywhere, as in Rom. i. 24, 26, 28, reprobation is declared to be judicial, founded upon the sinfulness of its objects. Otherwise it could not be a manifestation of the justice of God. (4.) Creation is never in the Bible represented as a means of executing the purpose of election and reprobation. This, as just remarked, cannot be so. The objects of election are definite individuals, as in this controversy is admitted. But the only thing which distinguishes between merely possible or “creatable” men and definite individuals, certain to be created and saved or lost, is the divine purpose that they shall be created. So that the purpose to create of necessity, in the order of nature, precedes the purpose to redeem. Accordingly, in Rom. viii 29, 30, πρόγνωσις is declared to precede προορισμός. “Whom he did foreknow he also did predestinate.” But foreknowledge implies the certain existence of its objects; and certainty of existence supposes on the part of God the purpose to create. Nothing is or is to be but in virtue of the decree of Him who foreordains whatever comes to pass. All futurition, therefore, depends on foreordination; and foreknowledge supposes futurition. We have, therefore, the express authority of the Apostle for saying that foreknowledge, founded on the purpose to create, precedes predestination. And, therefore, creation is not a means 319to execute the purpose of predestination, for the end must precede the means; and, according to Paul, the purpose to create precedes the purpose to redeem, and therefore cannot be a means to that end. Our Lord, we are told, was delivered to death “by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God.” But his death, of necessity, supposed his incarnation, and therefore in the order of thought, or in the plan of God, the purpose to prepare Him a body preceded the purpose to deliver Him to the death of the cross. The only passage of the Bible which appears to teach explicitly that creation is a means for the execution of the purpose of predestination is Eph. iii. 9, 10. There, according to some it is said that God created all things in order that (ἵνα) his manifold wisdom might be known through the Church. If this be the relation between the several clauses of these verses the Apostle does teach that the universe was created in order that through redeemed men (the Church) the glory of God should be revealed to all rational creatures. In this sense and in this case creation is declared to be a means to redemption; and therefore the purpose to redeem must precede the purpose to create. Such, however, is not the logical connection of the clauses in this passage. Paul does not say that God created all things in order that. He is not speaking of the design of creation, but of the design of the gospel and of his own call to the apostleship. To me, he says, is this grace given that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to enlighten all men in the knowledge of the mystery (of redemption, i.e., the gospel) in order that by the Church should be made known the manifold wisdom of God. Such is the natural connection of the passage, and such is the interpretation adopted by modern commentators entirely irrespective of the bearing of the passage on the supralapsarian controversy. (5.) It is a further objection to the supralapsarian scheme that it is not consistent with the Scriptural exhibition of the character of God. He is declared to be a God of mercy and justice. But it is not compatible with these divine attributes that men should be foreordained to misery and eternal death as innocent, that is, before they had apostatized from God. If passed by and foreordained to death for their sins, it must be that in predestination they are contemplated as guilty and fallen creatures.

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