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Ursinus on God’s Permission of Sin

September 11, 2007

From the Commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism:

1) The first sin of man had its origin, not in God, but was brought about by the instigation of the devil, and the free will of man. The devil tempt ed man to fall away from God ; and man, yielding to this temptation, willingly separated himself from God. And although God left man to himself in this temptation, yet He is not the cause of the fall, the sin, or the destruction of man; because, in this desertion, he neither designed, nor accomplished any of these things. He merely put man upon trial, to show that he is entirely unable to do, or to retain aught that is good, if he is not preserved and controlled by the Holy Spirit; and with this, his trial, God, in his just judgment, permitted the sin of man to concur. p., 34.

2) The third distinction holds in the understanding and will at the same time. God, as he knows all things unchangeably, so he has also decreed them from everlasting, and wills unchangeably all things which are done in as far as they are good, and permits them in as far as they are sins. But as the notions and judgment which creatures form of things are changeable, so their wills are also changeable. p., 59.

3) God created all things most wisely, and very good, that is, he made every thing perfect according to its kind and degree. “All things were very good.” (Gen. 1 : 31.) Every thing was created free from deformity and sin, and from evil under every form. Obj. But death is evil. Ans. God did not create death, but inflicted it as a just punishment upon the creature, on account of sin. Reply. But it is said, “God creates evil.” “Shall there be evil in a city, and the Lord hath not done it.” (Is. 45:7. Amos 3: 6.) Ans. These things are spoken of the evil of punishment and not of guilt. God is the author of punishment, because he is the judge of the world; but he is not the author of sin he merely permits it. p., 144-145.

4) A providence may be inferred from prophecy and the prediction of events. He is God who can declare to men things that are yet future, and who cannot be deceived in his predictions. Therefore he does not only foresee future events, but also directs them that they come to pass, either by his effecting or permitting them: so that he has a regard for human affairs, and governs the world by his providence. “Hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good.” (Num. 23:19.) Cicero says, “They are no gods that do not declare things to come.” pp., 149-150.

5) Foreknowledge, providence and predestination differ from each other. By foreknowledge we understand the knowledge of God, by which he foreknew, from all eternity, not only what he himself would do, but also what others would do by his permission, viz: that they would sin. Providence and predestination, although they include only those things which God him self will do, yet they differ in this, that providence extends to all the things and works of God, whilst predestination properly has respect only to rational creatures. p., 151.

6) The evils of guilt as far as they are such, that is, sins, have not the nature of that which is good. Hence God does not will them, neither does he tempt men to perform them, nor does he effect them or contribute thereto; but he permits devils and men to do them, or does not prohibit them from committing them when he has the power to do so. Therefore these things do indeed also fall under the providence of God, but not as if they were done by him, but only permitted. The word permit is therefore not to be rejected, seeing that it is sometimes used in the scriptures. “Therefore suffered I thee not to touch her.” “But God suffered him not to touch me.” ” He suffered no man to do them wrong.” “Who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own way.” (Gen. 20:6 ; 31:7. Ps. 105:14. Acts 14:16.) But we must have a correct understanding of the word lest we detract from God a considerable portion of the government of the world, and of human affairs. For this permission is not an indifferent contemplation or suspension of the providence and working of God as it respects the actions of the wicked, by which it comes to pass that these actions do not depend so much upon some first cause, as upon the will of the creatures acting; but it is a withdrawal of divine grace by which God (whilst he accomplishes the decrees of his will through rational creatures) either does not make known to the creature acting what he himself wishes to be done, or he does not incline the will of the creature to render obedience, and to perform what is agreeable to his will. Yet he, nevertheless, in the meanwhile, controls and influences the creature so deserted and sinning as to accomplish what he has purposed. p., 153-154.

7) We have now given a short explanation of the definition which we have given of the Providence of God, from which the following question naturally arises: Is it a providence that includes all things; or, in other words does it extend to every thing? The answer to this question is evident, which is, that all things, even the smallest, fall within the providence of God, so that whatever is done, whether it be good or bad, comes to pass not by chance, but by the eternal counsel of God, producing it if it be good, and permitting it if it be evil. But as there are some who are ignorant of this doctrine, whilst there are others who speak against it in various ways, and so cast reproach upon it, we must explain it more fully, and show that it is in perfect harmony with the teachings of God s word. p., 154.

8) The Scriptures furnish almost an infinite number of testimonies of a similar character, which prove that the providence of God embraces all thing? and every single event. These, however, are sufficient for our present purpose; for it is clearly evident from what has now been said, that all things, the evil as well as the good, the small as well as the great, are directed and governed by the providence of God; yet in such a way that those things which are good are done not only according to, but also by divine providence, as the cause, that is by God willing, commanding and effecting them, whilst those that are evil, as far as they are evil, are not done by, but according to divine providence, that is, not by God willing, commanding, effecting or furthering them; but by permitting them, and directing them to their appointed ends. p., 156.

9) Obj. 3. That which cannot be done, God absolutely forbidding it, may nevertheless be done when God wills it. Sin, in as far as it is sin, cannot be committed when God does not expressly will it, for the reason that he is omnipotent. Therefore sin must be committed by God willing it. Ans. We deny the consequence, because the major proposition is defective; it does not contain all that should be enumerated. This is wanting, or when he permits it: for sin may be committed when God does not simply will it, but willingly permits it. Or we may say there is an ambiguity in the phrase not willing it, which sometimes means to disapprove of, and prevent at the same time, in which sense it is impossible that any thing should be done when God does not will it, otherwise he would not be omnipotent; and then again it signifies only to disapprove of, and not to prevent, but to permit. In this sense sins may be committed when God does not will them, that is, when he does not approve of them ; but yet does not so restrain the wicked as to prevent their commission.

Obj. 4. The want of righteousness in man is from God. This want of righteousness is sin. Therefore sin is from God. Ans. There are four terms in this syllogism, for in the major proposition, the want of righteous ness signifies the desertion and withdrawal of grace actively, which is a most just punishment of the creature sinning, and is thus from God ; whilst in the minor it is to be understood passively, signifying a want of that righteousness which we ought to possess, which, when it is willingly contracted and received by men, and exists in them contrary to the law of God, is sin which is neither wrought nor desired by God. Briefly : This want of righteousness is from God in as far as it is a punishment; and it is not from him in as far as it is sin, or opposition to the law in the creature p., 159.

10) Obj. 6. God is the author of those things which are done by divine providence. All evils result from divine providence. Therefore God is the author of them. Ans. We grant the whole argument as it respects the evil of punishment; but as touching the evil of guilt the major must be distinguished in the following manner: Those things which are done by the providence of God effecting them, or in such a way that they result from it as an efficient cause, God is the author of them; but not of those which result from the providence of God only by permission, or which God permits, determines and directs to the best ends, as is true of the evil of guilt or crime. For the evils of guilt or sins in as far as they are such, have not the nature or consideration of good, as may be said to be true of the evil of punishment. Hence God does not will those things which are sins, neither does he approve of them, nor produce them, nor further or desire them, but merely permits them to be done, or does not prevent their commission, partly that he may exercise his justice in those who deserve to be punished, and partly that he may exhibit his mercy in forgiving others. “The scripture hath concluded all under sin that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ, might be given to them that believe.” ” Even for this purpose have I raised thee up, that I might show forth my power in thee.” (Gal. 3:22. Rom. 9:17.) It is for this reason declared in the definition of the doctrine of divine providence, that God permits evil to be done. But this permission as we have already shown, includes the withdrawal of divine grace by which God, 1. Does not make known to man his will, that he might act according thereto. 2. He does not incline the will of man to obey and honor him, and to act in accordance with his will as revealed. “If a dreamer of dreams shall arise among you, thou shalt not hearken unto him, for the Lord your God proveth you.” “The Lord moved David against Israel to say, Go and number Israel and Judah. (Deut. 13:1, 3. 2 Sam. 24:1.) Why did he afterwards punish David? That he might be led to repentance. 3. He nevertheless influences and controls those who are thus deserted, so as to accomplish through them his just judgments; for God accomplishes good things through evil instruments, no less than through those which are good. For as the work of God is not made better by the excellency of the instrument, so neither is it made worse by the evil character of the instrument. God wills actions that are evil, but only in as far as they are punishments of the wicked. All good things are from God, All punishments are just and good. Therefore they are from God, according as it is said: “Shall there be evil in the city, and the Lord hath not done it.” (Amos 3:5.) This is to be understood of the evil of punishment. The apostle James says in reference to the evil of guilt, “Let no man when he is tempted (that is when he is enticed to evil) say that he is tempted of God.” (James 1:13.) Only the evil of punishment, therefore, is from God, such as the chastisements and martyrdom of the saints, which he himself wills and effects. “Now therefore be not grieved nor angry with yourselves that ye sold me hither ; for God did send me before you to preserve your life.” (Gen. 45:5.) But God did not will death. Ans. He did not will it in as far as it is a torment and destruction of the creature, but he willed in as far as it is a punishment of sin, and the execution of his judgment. “Notwithstanding they hearkened not to the voice of their father, because the Lord would slay them. (2 Sam. 2: 25. p., 160-161.

11) Hence it is also apparent, how God punishes the wicked, and chastises and tempts the godly by evil spirits, whilst he is, nevertheless, not the cause of the sins which are committed by the devil, nor is a partaker with him in his wickedness. For that the wicked are punished by the wicked, and the good chastised and exercised, is the just and holy work of the divine will; but that the wicked execute the judgment of God by sinning, is not the fault of God, but comes to pass by the corruption of the wicked, which they have brought upon themselves, God neither willing, nor approving, nor accomplishing, nor furthering their sins, but only permitting them in his just judgment, when accomplishing his work and purpose through them, he either does not reveal his will to them, or does not influence their wills to regard his revealed will as the end and rule of their actions. This distinction between the works of God, and those of the devil, and of God s accomplishing his just work through the devil, and of his permitting the sin of the devil, is evidently confirmed by the history of Job, whom God de signed to try, whilst the devil attempted to destroy him. The same thing is also proven by the history of Ahab, and by the prophecy respecting anti christ, where the devil deceives men that he may destroy them, whilst God permits them to be deceived that he may in this way punish them, and suffers the devil to execute his will and purpose. (1 Kings 23. 2 Thes. 2.). p., 654.

12) Obj. Temptations which are good in respect to God, are evil in respect to the devil, and yet God, notwithstanding, leads us into them. Therefore God is the cause of sin. Ans. There is here a fallacy of the accident. They are sins in respect to the devil, because he designs to entice us to sin by these temptations. In respect to God, however, they are not sins, because they try us and withdraw us from sin, and also confirm our faith. Temptations, therefore, in as far as they are trials, chastisements, martyrdoms, &c., are sent of God ; but in as far as they are evil and sinful, God does not will them, so as to approve and effect them, but only permits them. p., 654-655.

Ursinus from his Discourses:

8. Now this permission is not a ceasing of God’s providence and working in the actions of evil men, whereby it may come to pass that those actions may seem not to depend of any other cause then of the creatures which are agents: but a withdrawing of his heavenly grace, whereby God executing the decree of his will by reasonable creatures, either does not reveal unto the creature his will, which will have that action done, or else bows not the will of the creature to obey this divine will in that action. Which so standing the creature sins necessarily indeed, but with all voluntarily, and freely, & by God’s most just judgement, while’s God by it brings to pass the just & good work of his will & providence.

9. God therefore will have those actions & motions (which the Devils & men by sinning do effect) to come to pass, as they are motions and executions of God’s just judgements: but a they are sins he neither wills, nor approves, nor effects them: though he forbid, hate & horribly punishes them, yet notwithstanding in Devils & men he suffers them to concur with his just actions whilst for every good reasons & most just causes he does not effect in them by his Spirit the performance of their actions justly, that is, according to the prescript of God’s will.

10. Neither is God therefore the author of confusion, which is in the actions of the evil, for what they will & do inordinately, that is, against the commandment of God, that God will have done in excellent & most wise order. Lastly, even sins themselves as they are sins, be done by God’s providence, though no effecting, yet permitting, & prescribing them bounds, & directing them wither it pleases him.

11. Neither is God by this doctrine made the author of sin, because the sin of the sinful creature does by accident concur with the good and just work of God, which he is in is own counsel determined, & by the sinful creature executes. And therefore in respect of God’s will those actions are just and right, which in respect of the wicked by whom they be done are sins.

12. And these things are manifest: first by the universal nature, causes & effects being such of themselves, & naturally or by accident. For when the same effect has many causes, some good & some bad, that same effect in respect of good causes is good, in respect of bad causes is bad: & good causes of themselves & naturally are the causes of good effects, but by accident of evil effects or sins: which is found in the effect by some other evil or sinful cause: & contrariwise, evil causes are of themselves the causes of evil, but by accident they may be causes of that good which is found in the effect.

13. Secondly the truth of these matters appears by the immutable nature of God the fountain and author of all good. For God’s works are equally good, whether he effect them by evil or good instruments, neither are they battered by good, or made worse by evil instruments, seeing their injustice and goodness depends not on the nature of the instruments, but of God which makes use of the instruments: but on the other side the creatures can neither by nor continue good, nor do any thing that is good, except God make them good, uphold them in goodness, & so governing them that they may work that which is good with God who by them works that good which he will.

14. Yet hereby we do not attribute unto God contrary wills. For God will & will not the same actions in divers respects. He will as they are conformable to his most just judgement and order: and he will not, but rather hates and detests, yet permits them to be done, as they are contrary to his order and law, against which they are committed by the wicked.

Zachary Ursine, “Rules and Axiomes of Certaine Chiefe Points of Christianie,” in Certaine learned and excellent Discourses: Treating and discussing divers hard and difficult points of Christian Religion: Collected, and published in Latine, by D. David Parreus, out of the writings of the late famous and worthie light of Gods Church, D. Zachary Ursine. (London: Imprinted by H.L. and are to be sould by Iohn Royston, as his shop at the great North Dore of Pauls, at the signe of the Bible, 1613), 222-224.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Flynn permalink
    September 26, 2007 3:18 am

    I have updated Ursinus on God’s permission of sin.

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