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Turretin on God’s Permission of Sin

August 30, 2007

         The orthodox hold the mean between these extremes, maintaining that the providence of God is so occupied about sin as neither idly to permit it (as the Pelagians think) nor efficiently to produce it (as the Libertines suppose), but efficaciously to order and direct it. However, in order that this may be readily understood, we must treat of it a little more distinctly.

         Second, this permission must not be conceived negatively, as if it was a mere keeping back (anergia) or cessation of his will and providence in evil works (by which God, sitting as it were on a watchtower, should behold only the event of the permitted action and who, therefore, would  be left uncertain and doubtful-as the old Pelagians thought and as their followers of the present day hold obtruding upon us the comment of an otiose and inert permission; cf.  Bellarmine, “God does not hold himself towards sins positively to will or nill, but negatively not to will” (“De amissione gratiae et statu peccati,” 2.16 in Opera 4:107).  But it must be conceived positively and affirmatively; not  simply that God does not will to hinder sin (which is an otiose negation), but that he wills not to hinder (which is an efficacious affirmation). Thus the permission involves a positive act of the secret will by which God designedly and willingly determined not to hinder sin, although he may be said to nill it as to the revealed will of approbation. In this sense, our divines do not refuse to employ the word  “permission” with the Scriptures. And if at any time they  reject it (as Calvin, Beza and others), they understand it in the Pelagian sense of otiose”permission” which takes away  from God his own right and sets up the idol of free will in its place. Hence Beza: “if by the word permission is meant this distinction (to wit, since God does not act in evil, but gives them up to Satan and their own lusts) that I repudiate not in the least. But if permission is opposed to will, this I reject as false and absurd; its falsity appearing from this, that if God unwillingly permits anything, he is not certainly God, i.e., Almighty; but if he is said to permit anything as not caring, how much do we differ from Epicureanism? It remains, there, fore, that he willingly permits what he permits. Will then is not opposed to permission” (A Little Book of Christian Questions and Responses, Q. 179 [trans. K.M. Summers, 1986], pp. 72-73).

Source: Turretin, Institutes, 1:516-7.

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