Reformed Theology

The Order of God’s Eternal Elective Decrees, Part 2

As promised, here is another post on the Order of Decrees.

There are several different opinions regarding the meaning of the terms Sublapsarian and Infralapsarian. Some people use one to refer to the traditional reformed Infralapsarian view, and the other to refer to Amyraldism (which I will explain in a later post). But there is usually no distinction between the Infralapsarian and Sublapsarian views; they are considered synonyms.

The Latin infra- means below and the Latin sub- means under (as in directly). Technically, if you wanted, you could differentiate between the two by placing election directly after the fall in one order, but anywhere after the fall in the other (such is inserting the provision of salvation in between). This is the way Lewis Sperry Chafer uses the terms.

The founder of Dispensationalism, Lewis Sperry Chafer (who was a Presbyterian, although the renowned theologian B.B. Warfield has criticized him as having been influenced by the perfectionist Keswick doctrince, a.k.a “Higher Life”), makes a distinction between the two in his Systematic Theology.

He reports the Supralapsarian view as the following order:

  1. Decree to elect some to be saved and to reprobate all others.
  2. Decree to create men both elect and nonelect.
  3. Decree to permit the fall.
  4. Decree to provide salvation for the elect.
  5. Decree to apply salvation to the elect. (Chafer, Systematic Theology, 179)

According to Chafer, Infralapsarian differs from Supralapsarian because the decrees of election and retribution follow the fall:

  1. Decree to create all men.
  2. Decree to permit the fall.
  3. Decree to provide salvation for men.
  4. Decree to elect those who do believe and to leave in just condemnation all who do not believe.
  5. Decree to apply salvation to those who believe.

It should be noted that the Chafer does not make the distinction he should as to on what it means to “provide salvation for men”, since it should say “provide salvation for the elect,” in order to make a fair comparison. I think he is unaware of the controversy between Universal Atonement and Particular Redemption. If he truly means “provide salvation for all men”, then Chafer’s Infralapsarian is actually Amyraldian.

Chafer’s Sublapsarian order more closely resembles the traditional Reformed Infralapsarian view, except he is again uses the ambiguous phrase, “provide salvation for men”:

  1. Decree to create all men.
  2. Decree to permit the fall.
  3. Decree to elect those who do believe and to leave in just condemnation those who do not believe.
  4. Decree to provide salvation for men.
  5. Decree to apply salvation to those who believe. (Chafer, 181)

While the distinctions between the Reformed Infralapsarian order and the Supralapsarian order concern the state of man while God is pondering election, so the difference between Sublapsarian and Infralapsarian views in Chafer’s imagination seem to emphasize Christ as the means of salvation. The Sublapsarian view puts election as superlative to Christ’s atonement. But Chafer’s Infralapsarian view stresses that it is “in Christ” that we are elect (if he means that salvation is provided for the elect). In the same way that we cannot think of God contemplating the reprobation of men without contemplating them as fallen, we also cannot think of God contemplating the elect without contemplating them as having a means of atonement. But really they go together. You cannot have one without the other, and this is what the Five Points of Calvinism teach us: Christ died for the elect, in order to redeem them, and they cannot be redeemed apart from Christ’s particular atonement. God has provided for himself the Lamb (Genesis 22:8). Since Five-Point Calvinists consider election and the atonement as going hand-in-hand, the distinction between Infralapsarian and Sublapsarian is usually not made. The order is a logical order, in the mind of God, and not a chronological order, and the arguments are theoretical.

Some others seem to identify Sublapsarianism with Amyraldism, and others take offense and say this is incorrect. In Chafer’s scheme, Infralapsarianism is very close to Amyraldism, but anyone who is going to take a stand against Amyraldism is going to use classify himself as an Infralapsarian. To avoid confusion, we should probably deny Chafer’s categories and consider Infralapsarianism and Amyraldism in their separate respects (as we will do in a later post).

We are elect in Christ. We believe that Christ died for the elect. We do not believe that we were chosen without regard to the atonement of Christ. But we also believe in the Limited Atonement, or Particular Redemption—that it was Christ dying for us, the elect. If the decree of Christ as the means of providing salvation is placed prior to the decree of election, it does not harm us, because his eternal purposes in redemption were aimed at his elect: he had us clearly in his sights.

We had an interesting discussion several months ago as part of our home fellowship series on our church’s Affirmation of Faith, when we were discussing the different views on the Lord’s Supper. Calvin believed Jesus was really present, though not in the elements either trans-substantially or con-substatiatially. So it is right and proper to think of Christ’s presence when you take communion. In the same way, as an act of worship, it is proper for us to visualize Christ on the cross as literally thinking of each and every one of his sheep, as the ones he died for, and each and every one of our sins, as the sins he was covering.

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