Out of the north comes golden splendor;
God is clothed with awesome majesty.
The almighty—we cannot find him;
he is great in power;
justice and abundant righteousness he will not violate.
Therefore men fear him;
he does not regard any who are wise in their own conceit
– Job 37:22-24 (ESV)
While preparing my outline for the Advent service at our home fellowship next week, I embarked on some theological research regarding the order of God’s elective decrees. As I wanted to retain more of a devotional stature for an Advent message on God’s eternal sovereign plan, I will be posting three blogs on the subject the order of decrees, giving them only a brief mention at the home fellowship.
Throughout church history, we have seen the development of theological frameworks stated in such a way as they were not previously stated in reaction to false teaching. For example, the doctrine of the Trinity is clearly apparent in Scripture, though it was not stated the way we would say it in a creed or confession now. This is not to say that people did not believe in the Trinity prior to Constantine. Rather, it was the heresy of Arius that forced early church fathers at the Council of Nicæa to formulate what Christians had believed for three hundred years. Likewise, the Five Points of Calvinism are largely Augustinian, and exist in Calvin’s theology, though it was not until the Remonstrance that they were set forth in the Canons of Dort, in response to the Arminian heresy. Even heresies occur by the Providence of God, and they serve his ends because they refine his Church!
In the same way, the Infralapsarian view of God’s eternal decree, while dealing with a theoretical logical order of decrees in the mind of God (who can know it?), is a necessary formulation because it combats two errors: Supralapsarianism and Amyraldism.
According to the infralapsarian view the order of events was as follows: God proposed (1) to create; (2) to permit the fall; (3) to elect to eternal life and blessedness a great multitude out of this mass of fallen men, and to leave the others, as He left the Devil and the fallen angels, to suffer the just punishment of their sins; (4) to give His Son, Jesus Christ, for the redemption of the elect; and (5) to send the Holy Spirit to apply to the elect the redemption which was purchased by Christ. According to the supralapsarian view the order of events was: (1) to elect some creatable men (that is, men who were to be created) to life and to condemn others to destruction; (2) to create; (3) to permit the fall; (4) to send Christ to redeem the elect; and (5) to send the Holy Spirit to apply this redemption to the elect. (Loraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination. 126-127)
Because Infralapsarian view combats Supralapsarianism and Amyraldism, it is the aspects that differentiate it from those two views that we need to concern ourselves with. In the argument with Supralapsarianism, the issue is whether election comes before or after the fall (from the Latin supra-, meaning above, and lapsus, meaning error, or the fall)
When thinking about these things, we must continually remind ourselves that we are not dealing with the order of events, but the order of God’s decree. Phil Johnson writes:
The distinction between infralapsarianism and supralapsarianism has to do with the logical order of God’s eternal decrees, not the timing of election. Neither side suggests that the elect were chosen after Adam sinned. God made His choice before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4)—long before Adam sinned. Both infras and supras (and even many Arminians) agree on this.
(Phil Johnson, Director of John MacArthur’s Grace to You radio ministry, operates the website spurgeon.org, and has a great articleon four different soteriological views of God’s Eternal Decree. He labels the four views Supralapsarianism, Infralapsarianism, Amyraldism, and Arminianism.)
The Supralapsarian says God was thinking about man as unfallen when he chose to make some vessels of wrath fitted for destruction and others vessels of mercy. And then he pondered the means to make them judicially deserving of their reprobation and ordained the fall. So in the Supralapsarian view, God is looking at mankind as innocent before damning some to hell. In Infralapsarianism, God already expects the fall, and therefore his election of some is a divine act of mercy.
Supralapsarianism is more clearly contrary to human reason than the “moderate Calvinist” view, and therefore, Boettner explains that Arminians like to pick the Supralapsarian view when trying to persuade people that Calvinists are evil (p. 29).
What sets Supralapsarianism apart from Infralapsarianism is that it changes reprobation from a withholding of grace to something else entirely. The Canons of Dort, which were where the Dutch Reformed met to lay out their arguments against the Five Points of Arminianism, includes this in Article I, section 15:
Article 15: Reprobation
Moreover, Holy Scripture most especially highlights this eternal and undeserved grace of our election and brings it out more clearly for us, in that it further bears witness that not all people have been chosen but that some have not been chosen or have been passed by in God’s eternal election—those, that is, concerning whom God, on the basis of his entirely free, most just, irreproachable, and unchangeable good pleasure, made the following decision: to leave them in the common misery into which, by their own fault, they have plunged themselves; not to grant them saving faith and the grace of conversion; but finally to condemn and eternally punish them (having been left in their own ways and under his just judgment), not only for their unbelief but also for all their other sins, in order to display his justice. And this is the decision of reprobation, which does not at all make God the author of sin (a blasphemous thought!) but rather its fearful, irreproachable, just judge and avenger. (Reformed.org)
So the definition of reprobation as God passing over sinners, leaving them to their own devices, is a critical tenet of Reformed Theology. It is true that “where there is no sin, there is no condemnation” (Boettner, 128). The wages of sin is death. And because death is the wages of sin, we cannot conceive of death without sin, much less eternal punishment.
Boettner 128: God’s sovereignty is “exercised in harmony with His other attributes, especially His justice, holiness, and wisdom. God cannot commit sin; and in that respect He is limited, although it would be more accurate to speak of His inability to commit sin as a perfection. There is, of course, mystery in connection with either system; but the supralapsarian system seems to pass beyond mystery and into contradiction.”
All of the decrees are eternal. God’s mind does not work like ours—or rather, our minds do not work like his—because his mind has pondered these things eternally, and he is the originator of all ideas or concepts entwined in these thoughts. He can perceive all things at once, but we can only think of things one at a time.
It is also true that there are some things here which cannot be put into the time mould, —that these events are not in the Divine mind as they are in ours, by a succession of acts, one after another, but that by one single act God has at once ordained all these things. In the Divine mind the plan is a unit, each part of which is designed with reference to a state of facts which God intended should result from the other parts. All of the decrees are eternal. They have a logical, but not a chronological, relationship. Yet in order for us to reason intelligently about them we must have a certain order of thought. We very naturally think of the gift of Christ in sanctification and glorification as following the decrees of the creation and the fall. (29)
“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” (Rom. 11:33, ESV)