Reformed Theology

Benjamin Breckenridge Warfield wrote the following in The Plan of Salvation, Part I:

The two parties here are known in the history of thought by the contrasting names of Supralapsarians and Sublapsarians or Infralapsarians. The point of difference between them is whether God, in his dealing with men with reference to their destiny, divides them into two classes merely as men, or as sinners. That is to say, whether God’s decree of election and preterition concerns men contemplated merely as men, or contemplated as already sinful men, a massa corrupta.

The mere putting of the question seems to carry its answer with it. For the actual dealing with men which is in question, is, with respect to both classes alike, those who are elected and those who are passed by, conditioned on sin: we cannot speak of salvation any more than of reprobation without positing sin. Sin is necessarily precedent in thought, not indeed to the abstract idea of discrimination, but to the concrete instance of discrimination which is in question, a discrimination with regard to a destiny which involves either salvation or punishment. There must be sin in contemplation to ground a decree of salvation, as truly a decree of punishment. We cannot speak of a decree discriminating between men with reference to salvation and punishment, therefore, without positing the contemplation of men as sinners as its logical prius.

The fault of the division of opinion now in question is that it seeks to lift the question of the discrimination on God’s part between men, by which they are divided into two classes, the one the recipients of his undeserved favor, and the other the objects of his just displeasure, out of the region of reality; and thus loses itself in mere abstractions. When we bring it back to earth we find that the question which is raised amounts to this: whether God discriminates between men in order that he may save some; or whether he saves some in order that he may discriminate between men. Is the proximate motive that moves him an abstract desire for discrimination, a wish that he may have some variety in his dealings with men; and he therefore determines to make some of the objects of his ineffable favor and to deal with others in strict accordance with their personal deserts, in order that he may thus exercise all his faculties? Or is it the proximate motive that moves him an unwillingness that all mankind should perish in their sins; and, therefore, in order to gratify the promptings of his compassion, he intervenes to rescue from their ruin and misery an innumerable multitude which no man can number—as many as under the pressure of his sense of right he can obtain the consent of his whole nature to relieve from the just penalties of their sin—by an expedient in which his justice and mercy meet and kiss each other? Whatever we may say of the former question, it surely is the latter which is oriented aright with respect to the tremendous realities of human existence.

One of the leading motives in the framing of the supralapsarian scheme, is the desire to preserve the particularistic principle throughout the whole of God’s dealings with men; not with respect to man’s salvation only, but throughout the entire course of the divine action with respect to men. God from creation itself, it is therefore said, deals with men conceived as divided into two classes, the recipients respectively of his undeserved favor and of his well-merited reprobation. Accordingly, some supralapsarians place the decree of discrimination first in the order of thought, precedent even to the decree of creation. All of them place it in the order of thought precedent to the decree of the fall. It is in place therefore to point out that this attempt to particularize the whole dealing of God with men is not really carried out, and indeed cannot in the nature of the case be carried out. The decree to create man, and more particularly the decree to permit the man whose creation is contemplated to fall into sin, are of necessity universalistic. Not some men only are created, nor some men created differently from others; but all mankind is created in its first head, and all mankind alike. Not some men only are permitted to fall; but all men and all men alike. The attempt to push particularism out of the sphere of the plan of salvation, where the issue is diverse (because confessedly only some men are saved), into the sphere of creation or of the fall, where the issue is common (for all men are created and all men are fallen), fails of the very necessity of the case. Particularism can come into question only where the diverse issues call for the postulation of diverse dealings looking toward the differing issues. It cannot then be pushed into the region of the divine dealings with man prior to man’s need of salvation and God’s dealings with him with reference to a salvation which is not common to all. Supralapsarianism errs therefore as seriously on the one side as universalism does on the other. Infralapsarianism offers the only scheme which is either self-consistent or consistent with the facts.

This work doesn’t appear in the 10-volume Works, but you can find the text online on

B.B. Warfield on the Supralapsarian Controversy


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