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Heinrich Heppe divine permission of sin as standard Reformed doctrine

November 9, 2007

27.-Divine providence governs the bad as well as the good actions of men, the latter by an actio efficax, the former by a permissio efficax.

–WOLLEB p, 30: “By God’s providence things good and bad are ruled. Good things are ruled by effectual action, to which belong the praecurrence, concurrence and succurrence of divine power. Bad things are ruled by actuosa permissio and so by permission, determining and direction” .

–POLAN distinguishes (VI, 17) two parts. in “God’s actual providence”, namely actio and permissio. “God’s actio–is only one of the good things which God effects right from the first creation of all things, either by Himself or by others, in which also the punishment of evil is counted, because it is of the nature of moral good.

–Divine permission is the act of the divine will by which God, in whose power it is to inhibit the actions of others, if He wiled, does not inhibit them, but according to His eternal and righteous decree allows them to be done by the rational creature” .

28.- This permissio is not a moral one, by which God would approve of sin, but a physical, by which He gives sin way, a non-impeditio peccati–BREMISCHE BEKENNTNIS (HEPPE, p. 169) : “Evil is partly malum culpae, partly malum poenae. That” the evil with which God temporally and eternally punishes and wî1 punish the world is ordained by God, is undeniable.–But that evil which is sin and which God neither creates nor causes, cannot be completely and in every way withdrawn from the eternal ordering of God, even though it be said that God is such a controller of the world that apart from and contrary to His ordering many a thing happens in the world.-But God does not ordain evil as He does good, i.e. as something that pleases Him, but as the sort of thing He hates, nevertheless knowingly and willingly destines, lets be in the world and uses wondrously for good”.

–RIISSEN (VIII, 12): “Sin should not be withdrawn from the providence of God. It falls under it as to start, progress and finish.-13: As to beginning God freely allows sin.–14: This permission is, however, not ethical, like a licence to sin, but physical, a non-impeditio of sin.–The statement ‘God wills to allow sin’ thus does not mean ‘God wills to approve sin morally’. Hence KECKERMAN (p. 115) says: “If willing to permit is the same as willing the permission of sin, we agree that God willingly permits it. If it is the same as permitting it approvingly or approving the thing permitted, we must not admit that God willingly permits sin”.

29.–Moreover this permission is not a relation of indifference in God to man, but a positive act. By it God gives man opportunity to sin, withdraws His protecting grace from Him, and hands him over to the power of sin and the devil, so that in that case sin is the necessary result.

–URSIN (Explic. catech. 131): The word permissio is not to be rejected, since it is occasionally used in Scripture. This permissio is not “a cessation of divine providence and operation” but “a withdrawal of divine grace, by which God-either does not teach the acting. creature what He Himself wishes done, or Himself does not bend its will to obedience. None the less meanwhile He rightly moves the creature thus deserted and sinning, and most excellently executes what He has decreed through it”.

–The later men (like RISSEN, VIII, 16-17) assign to permissio peccati (which is a positive act) (i) the” offering of occasions “, (2) “handing over to Satan”, (3) “desertion, by which God by withdrawing the grace that opposes sin deserts the man, or by not giving it in such sufficiency that he may thereby overcome the onrushing temptation”. On this point the most explicit is HEIDAN (p. 374 ff) who explains permissio peccati thus: “Sin is permitted (1) when God here and now suits His concurrence to the act of sin; (2) when He does not remove occasions of sinning or does not supply contrary ones, but often offers them; (3) when He does not supply the grace necessary to avoid sin or even withdraws it; (4) when He does not illuminate and move mind and will by giving law and gospel; (5) when He allows a man to follow his own desires; (6) when He lets him be corrupted by bad company and dirty talk; (7) when He hardens, blinds and hands him over to desires and lets in the effectiveness of error 2 Th. 2. i I (and for this cause God sendeth them a working of error, that they should believe a lie); (c.f. the “lying spirit” to entice Ahab, 1 K. 22. 22 cf. Ezek. 14.9 where God deceives the deceiving prophet: cf. also Rev. 17.17 (God did put in their hearts . . . to give their kingdom unto the beast)): (8) when He hands him over to Satan”. Hence HEIDAN’S statement p. 380: “Given all these things they do them, so that sin is assuredly done, in fact cannot fail to be; so that given God’s permission sin necessarily follows, at least necessitate consequentíae though not by causal nexus.”

30.–As by God’s active permission sin gains its beginning, so too the continuation and the end thereof are controlled by God. He determines the sin’s compass to which it is raised in the heart of man and in its indications, bridles it and so guides it that it must serve the purpose of the world.

–RIISSEN (VIII, 18): “As to the progress of sin divine providence is exercised by its potent ending, in setting limits to it both of intention that it may not expand infinitely, and of duration to prevent it lasting longer and so the sinner would do more harm to himself and to others. Thus it does either inwardly-by enlightening the mind-or by restraining and bridling wicked desires: or outwardly by repressing Satan’s and the world’s frenzies, by removing occasions of evil, etc.–19: As to the end of sin divine providence is revealed in a wise ordering and directing, by converting evil into good and leading it to a good end outwith the nature of sin and the will of the sinner”.

31.–That God is not therefore the originator of sin becomes clear, if in the sinful act the act in and for itself, the material element in it, the physical action, and -the formal element, the sinful outlook which man adopts in it are rightly distinguished. To the act in and for itself, i.e. to that which is the physical basis of man’s sinful attitude man is literally driven by God. On the other hand the sinfulness of the mind proceeds so exclusively from man’s own will, that because God does not hinder the awakening of sin in man’s heart (in which He is perfectly justified) or purposely allows the wakening of sin to become an act, He may indeed be called the causa deficiens, but not in any sense the causa efficiens of sin.

BUCAN (XIX, 11i): “God does not infuse malice into the wills of evil man, as He infuses goodness into the hearts of the godly.–In one and the same work of the godly what is a good and just action proper to God is to be distinguished from the defect and vice of the ungodly. The sin of the wicked is their own; their doing this or that by sinning is of God’s power,–and so in the same work God is ascertained to be righteous, man to be guilty”.

–WOLLEB 30: “In evil actions two things must be looked to, the action itself and the anomia of the action. The action itself as a natural movement takes place by God’s effective operation: its Bvo¡ila however or its badness (malitia) becomes actual by God’s permission”.

–WENDELIN (Systema, I, VI, 10) distinguishes in concrete sins (i) the natural underlying action; (2) the vitium or the anomia, “sin as such”; (3) the possible and the actual ordering of the underlying action to a good end. Similarly HEIDAN p. 384 and HEIDEGGER (VII, 65) : “In this sin there are three things which cannot be separated: (1) the nature or actio in which sin dwells as on someone else’s estate; (2) the sin, viciousness or illegality, which inheres in such a subject; (3) the order which, sin once committed, God imposes by His rule. God operates the nature and the action while -the freedom remains the same; which we showed above to obtain as regards the qualities and free actions physically considered. Viciousness and Bvo¡ila are effected not by God Himself but solely by the creatures; yet regarding God they work so variously, that it cannot be withdrawn from His providence. In short the order which by His egemonia, sin having already been committed, God imposes as Ruler and Lord of all creatures, looks up to Himself as none other than the actual and indeed the sole author”.

MASTRICHT (III, X, 18): “We may fairly nicely come to an agreement, if we distinguish in sin its material part, the habitus or action underlying the badness, with which as being physically good God cannot fail to concur as efficient cause without loss of His independence, Ac. 17. 28 (In Him we live and move and are. . . for we are also His offspring), Rom. ii: 36 (of him and through him and to him are all things); and its formal part or anomia,1 Jn 3. 4 (sin is anomia), by which the act or habitus is sin. Of this He cannot be the author, because He cannot transgress the law, being placed above all law; nor by His providence does He become the author (of sin), because this anomia is nothing but defect of operation, of which no author or efficient cause but only a deficient one can exist: for this reason alone the creature as such is the author of sin by transgression of the law”.

–BRAUN (I, II, 12.27): “Sin (therefore) is not in the operation itself, but in the defect of the operation. So it has no efficient but rather a deficient cause. Thus apparently the Saviour had in view: on the last day he will convict the sinner not so much of actions as of defects of action, Mt. 25. 42-43 (I was an hungered, and ye gave me no meat; I was thirsty and ye gave me no drink; I was a stranger and ye took me not in; naked and ye clothed me not; sick and in prison, and ye visited me not).

–MARCK (X, 21): “It must be said that here God’s providence is clear (i) in the production of the actual act which is bad, since as an action it must be called metaphysically good. There is quite a difference between this action and the defect, not of God who is held by no law, but of man ‘Who is held by the divine law just as between native corruption and vicious habit and the man, between a stench and water dissolved by heat, between lameness and the advance of an urged horse”.

32.–It must also be noted on the one hand that God wills sin, not so far as it is sin but so far as it is the punishment of sin and of sinful inclination and hence as the righteous judge He determines the hardening of the godless, who are inexcusable in His sight.

–WOLLEB 31: “The hardening of the godless is ascribed to a most just judgment, so that no sin can be imputed to God nor can the godless be excused. The godless are inexcusable in respect that God only hardens those who harden themselves, and does not make them hard instead of 80ft but by a just judgment more hardened instead of hardened.”

–BUCAN (XIV, 14): “In fact God punishes sins with sins. Hence He wills sin not as sin but as a punishment or act of justice, because all punishment of sin is just and thereby good.”

MASTRICHT (III, X. 20): “God acts singularly in causing blindness Romans 1. 21 (. . . their foolish heart was darkened) Is. 6.9-10 (hear but understand not, see but perceive not, make the heart of this people fat. . . lest. . . they. . . convert and be healed) 2 Th.2. 10-12 (with all deceit of unrighteousness for them that are perishing, because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God sendeth them a working of error, that they should believe a lie; that they all might be judged who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness) by which He hands over the will to its desires, Rom. 1. 24-27 (God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to uncleanness that their bodies should. be dishonored among themselves–sodomy). These two things God does not actually effect nor does He infuse blindness or hardness into the sinner, Cf. Jas. 1.13-15 (let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted from God; God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempteth no man; but each man is tempted by his own lust, being drawn away by it and enticed. Then the lust when it has conceived bears sin; and. the sin when it is fullgrown bringeth forth death); nor yet either does he just fail to remove blindness and hardness by not circumcising the heart Jer. 6. 10, 26 (to whom shall I speak and testify, that they may hear? behold, their ear is uncircumcised and they cannot hearken; behold the word of the Lord is become unto them a reproach–O daughter of my people, gird thee with sackcloth and wallow thyself in ashes; make thee mourning as for an only son, most bitter lamentation; for the spoiler shall come suddenly upon us), Ac. 7.51 (Ye stiff necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost; as your fathers did, so do ye), or by not conferring spiritual light upon the mind and softness and ductility on the heart Mt. 13. 14-15 citing Is. 6. 9-10 (hearing you shall hear and in no wise understanding . . . lest haply (this people) should perceive etc. . . and should turn again and I should heal them) ; but over and above that (1) on account of previous crimes He removes or decreases in a just and holy manner what remains to the sinner of wisdom and moral goodness, and also increases and aggravates original blindness. and hardness. And this is to make the heart fat (Is. 6. 9~IO), to give itself over to its desires, Rom. 1. 24.28, to send effectiveness in error, 2 Th. 2. 10-11 (with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish, because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie). (2) He so to speak gives Satan, the world, seductions the loose rein, 2 Th. 2~ 9 (whose coming is according to the working of Satan with all power and signs and wonders of falsehood). His advent is kat’ energeain tou satana pase dunamei. He sends a spirit of lying, 1 K. 22. 22-23 (. . . I will go forth and will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And He said, Thou shalt entice him and prevail also: go forth, and do so. Now therefore, behold, the Lord hath put a lying spirit on the mouth of all his prophets; and the Lord hath spoken evil concerning thee). (3) He offers chances to convert, both outwardly by frequent exhortations, promises, threats, examples which they abuse, Ex. 5. 1 (Pharaoh besought to let the people go) Is. 6. 9 (hear, but understand not); whence the gospel becomes a savour unto death 2 Cor. 2. 16; and inwardly by instilling honest thoughts, remorses of conscience, by which they are withdrawn from wickedness and stimulated to good, which they refuse and quench, 1 Th. 5. 19 (quench not the spirit) jude 10 (these rail at whatsoever things they know not: and what they understand naturally, like the creatures without reason, in these things are they destroyed), 2 P. 2, 12 (these as creatures without reason, born natural animals to be taken and destroyed, railing in matters whereof they are ignorant, shall in their destroying surely be destroyed). (4) He adds outward benefits, a wealth of kindness, tolerance and restraint of wrath, which in their hardness and unrepentant heart they reject, Rom. 2.4-5 (or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and long-suffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? but after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up for thyself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God). Likewise (5) outward punishments, Jer. 5. 3 (O Lord, thou smitest them, but they grieve not; thou consumest them, but they refuse to receive instruction, they make their face harder than rock, they refuse to be converted)”.

By distinguishing between velie malum and male velie HEIDAN p. 383 seeks to prove that God is not to be regarded as the author of sin. The latter is “doing by willing what God has forbidden: Or omitting by willing, what Cod has enjoined.” Of God of course we must predicate velte malum; but” wishing evil to be done in a transient act of will, not for His own but for another’s evil”.

33.–It is always a hardened man that God hardens and not something mild, then; just as on the other hand God always uses sin, i.e. the act caused by Him in which the sinfulness of man is active, to achieve His holy purposes i whereby the sinful nature of the means which are at His disposal and which He renders serviceable to Himself, cannot encroach upon the holiness of the divine acts themselves. KECKERMANN 154: “God can use il instruments well, although beyond the intention and aim of the instruments “.

–URSIN (Loci p. 575): “It is by no means because of the goodness or badness of the instruments by which God executes the decrees of His will, that that will is more or less good; whatever the nature of die instrument God’s work through it is always most excellent, righteous and holy. The goodness or badness of the divine works depends not on die instrument’s but on God’s own goodness, wisdom, righteousness and uprightness.–It is absolutely necessary to admit that God does execute His righteous and holy works and judgments by bad and sinning instruments; unless anyone cares to deny that the tests and punishments of the godly caused by wicked men, are both righteous and proceed from die divine will, power and effectiveness, then, likewise, that the virtues and deeds of the godly are God’s salutary gifts and benefits to the human race and to the Church, i.e. that God is the effective and righteous judge of the world and the preserver and defender of His servants and the author and producer of all good things “.

Heinrich Heppe, Reformed Dogmatics, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1978), 274-280.

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