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Bishop Joseph Hall (1574–1656), on “Conditional Decree” and “Will” in early Reformation theology

November 18, 2007

[Editorial notes: Hall was one of the English delegates to Dort. For a brief biography see wikipedia I have not included all the Latin footnotes except those which are of particular interest. I cannot verify the one Calvin citation as of yet. The whole work can be found here and credit to Marty for the find. ]

Hall:

Neither is this election, according to the plea of the opponents, made ever the more uncertain by this pre-requisition of our faith: since they profess to teach it supposed in our election, not as a condition whose performance God expects, as uncertain; but as a gift, which God, according to his eternal prescience, foresees in man, present and certain: as the decree of sending Christ into the world did not depend upon a conditioned and uncertain expectation of what man would do, or would not do; but upon the infallible notice of God, who foresaw man as presently sinning or fallen: so as the election of God is not suspended upon the mutability of man s will; but upon the infallible certainty of the foreknowledge of God, to whose eyes our faith and perseverance is not more doubtful than future, and whose prescience hath no less infallibility than his decree. If therefore God may have the sole glory of this work in the gift of that faith which he foresees, and our election hazards no certainty, as they profess to hold, what is there that should need to draw blood in this first quarrel?

But what need I labour to reconcile these opinions, which have no reason to concern us? The church of England, according to the explication of R[ev.] B[ishop] Overal, goes a midway betwixt both these. For, while the one side holds a general conditional decree of God to save all men if they believe, and a particular decree of saving those who he foresaw would believe; and the other side, not admitting of that general conditionate decree, only teaches a particular absolute decree to save some special persons, for whom only Christ was given, and to whom grace is given irresistibly, all others being by a no less absolute decree rejected: our church, saith he, with St. Austin, maintaineth an absolute and particular decree of God to save those whom he hath chosen in Christ, not out of the prescience of our faith and will, but out of the mere purpose of his own will and grace: and that there upon God hath decreed to give, to whom he pleaseth, a more effectual and abundant grace, by which they not only may believe and obey if they will; but whereby they do actually will, believe, obey, and persevere, without prejudice to the rest, to whom he hath also given gracious offers and helps to the same purpose, though by their just fault neglected.

What can the synod of Dort in this case wish to be said more? Indeed, withal he addeth a general conditionate will of God, or a general evangelical promise of saving all if they do believe: since God doth will and command that all men should hear Christ and believe in him; and in so doing hath offered grace and salvation unto all: declaring how well these two may agree together, that, first, God hath propounded salvation in Christ to all if they believe, and hath offered them (within the church especially) a common and sufficient grace in the means that he hath mercifully ordained, if men would not be wanting to the word of God and his Holy Spirit; and that to ascertain the salvation of man, he hath decreed to add that especial, effectual, and saving grace unto some: neither of which truths can well and safely be denied of any Christian: only the sound of a general and conditionate will perhaps seems harsh to some ears; whereto yet they should do well to inure themselves, since it is the approved distinction of worthy, orthodox, and unquestionable divines.

Zanchius, in his book De Praedest. Sanct. hath it in terminis., with a large exposition. “That God willeth some things absolutely,” saith he,” it is manifest, and plainly confirmed by scriptures: so he absolutely willed the world should be created and governed: so he absolutely willed that Christ should come into the world and die for the salvation of his elect. He wills also absolutely that the elect shall be saved; and therefore per forms to them all things that are necessary to their salvation.” “That the same God willeth some things conditionally, the scriptures also teach us: for God would have all men to be saved, if they would keep the law, or believe in Christ: and therefore I call that first an absolute will, this latter a conditional.” And in the next leaf to the same purpose he saith,” It is also true that God would have all men to be saved in his revealed and conditionate will; scil. if they would believe in Christ and care fully keep his law: for by this will no man is excluded from salvation and knowledge of the truth.” So Ambrose interprets that place of I Tim. ii. 4. “He would have all to be saved,” saith he, “if themselves will: for he hath given his law to all; and excepts no man,” in respect of his law and will revealed, “from salvation.” For the further allowing whereof, the same Zanchius cites the testimonies of Luther, Bucer, and others. Neither doth it much ablude from this, that our English divines at Dort call the decree of God, whereby he hath appointed in and by Christ to save those that repent, believe, and persevere, Decretum annunciativum salutis omnibus ex cequo et indiscriminatim promulgandum.1

Surely it is easy to observe that we are too fearful of some distinctions, which carry in them a jealousy of former abuse; and yet both may well be admitted in a good sense, and serve for excellent purpose; as that if we labour, for our better under standing, to explicate the one will of God by several notions of the antecedent and consequent will of God; (which Paulus Ferrius, a reformed schoolman, approves by the suffrages of Zanchius, Polanus, and other orthodox divines;2) to look at it a little running, as that which gives no small light to the business in hand.

As there is wont to be conceived a double knowledge of God: the one, of mere understanding, whereby he foreknows all things that may be; the other, of vision or approbation, whereby he foreknows that which undoubtedly shall be: so there is a double will to be conceived of God, answerable to this double know ledge; an antecedent will, which answers to the mere under standing, whereby God wills every possible good, without the consideration of the adjuncts appertaining to it; a consequent will, answering to the knowledge of approbation, whereby, all circumstances prepensed, God doth simply will this or that particular event as simply good to be, and which is thereupon impossible not to be. The one of these is a will of complacency; the other, of prosecution: the one is, as it were, an optative will; the other, an absolute. In the first of these, God would have all to be saved; because it is in a sort good in itself, in that the nature of man is ordainable to life, and man hath by God common helps seriously offered for the attaining thereof: neither can we think it other than pleasing to God, that his creatures should both do well and fare well. In the latter, he willeth some of all to be saved; as not finding it simply good, all circumstances considered, to extend this favour to all: this appears in the effect; for, if God absolutely willed it, it could not fail of being. Neither doth aught hinder but these two may stand well together; a complacence in the blessedness of his creature, and a will of his smart: for both that which we will in one regard we may not will in another; as we may wish a felon to live as a man, to die as a malefactor; and besides, the possibility of one opposite doth not hinder the act of another, as he that hath power to run perhaps doth sit or lie.

Learned Zanchius, methinks, gives at once a good satisfaction, as to this doubt so to the ordinary exception, whereat many have stumbled, of the pretended mockage of God s invitations, where he means not, as some have misconceived, a serious effect. “In the parable of the gospel,” saith he, “those which were first bidden to the marriage feast, and carne not, were they therefore mocked by the king, because he only signified unto them what would be acceptable unto him, and what was their duty to per form? and yet he did not command them to be compelled, as he did the second guests, to come to the wedding. Surely no: yet in the meantime there was not the same will of the king in the inviting of the first, and of the second: for in these second, there was an absolute will of the king, that they should without fail come, and therefore he effectually caused them to come: in the former he only signified, and that fairly and ingenuously, what would be pleasing to him.” Thus he. The entertainment of this one distinction, which hath the allowance of orthodox and learned authors, to be free from any danger or inconvenience, would mitigate this strife; since it is that which the opponents contend for, and which the defendants may yield without any sensible prejudice.

As for the envy of that irrespective and absolute decree of reprobation wherewith the defendants are charged, it is well taken off, if we distinguish, as we must, of a negative and positive reprobation; the latter whereof, which is a preordination to punishment, is never without a respect and prevision of sin: for, although by his absolute power God might cast any creature into everlasting torment, without any just exception to be taken on our parts; yet, according to that sweet providence of his, which disposeth all things in a fair order of proceeding, he cannot be said to inflict or adjudge punishment to any soul, but for sin, since this is an act of vindicative justice, which still supposeth an offence. If this be yielded by the defendants, as it is, wherein also they want not the voices even of the Romish school, what needs any further contention? especially while the defendants plead, even those that are most rigorous, that upon the non-election of some, damnation is “not causally but only consecutively” inferred. Sure I am that by this, which is mutually yielded on both parts, all mouths are stopped from any pretence of calumniation against the justice of the Almighty; and we are sufficiently convinced of the necessity of our care to avoid those sins which shall otherwise be rewarded with just damnation.
Let this be enough for the first article. Less will serve of the rest.

Concerning the extent of Christ’s death, the Belgic opponents profess to rest willingly in those words of Musculus: Omnium peccata tulit, &c: “He hath borne the sins of all men, if we consider his sacrifice according to the virtue of it in itself, and think that no man is excluded from this grace but he that refuses it. So God loved the world, that he gave his only-begotten Son, to the end that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life; John iii. 16. But if we respect those which do so believe and are saved; so he hath borne only the sins of many.” Thus he.3 Neither will the opponents yield any less. What is this other than the explication of that usual distinction which we have, whether from St. Austin or his scholar Prosper, of the greatness of the price, and the propriety of the redemption?4 that equal to all, this pertaining but to some. That common word seems enough to the Belgic opponents: “The price of Christ’s blood is sufficient to save all:” and if this may serve their turn, who can grudge it? Contrarily, while they do willingly grant, that in respect of the efficacy of power, Christ died not for all; and that Christ was given only with this intention of his Father, that the world should no otherwise be saved by his Son than through faith; what need we urge more?

Both will grant that the apothecary s shop hath drugs enough for the cure of all diseases, which yet can profit none but those that are willing to make use of them. Both will accord in this position, which B. Overal commends, as in effect the words of worthy Mr. Calvin: So Christ died for all, that there is no man, if his incredulity did not hinder him, but were redeemed by his precious blood: neither is there, as is willingly confessed by the defendants, any man living to whom it may be singularly said, Christ died not for thee.5 Seeing therefore whole mankind doth but result of singular and individual men, why should we fear to say unto all, that Christ died for them?

Now what should we stand upon a niggardly contestation of words, where so much real truth is mutually yielded? Who can think there can be any peril to that soul who believes thus much? The rest to the schools.

But whatever have been the nice scruples and explications of foreign divines, we have no such cause of strife, if we admit that which our learned bishop commends for the voice of the church of England! who, having laid down the two extreme opinions of the opposite parts, brings in the church of England as sweetly moderating betwixt both: that she, supposing the death of Christ for all men, and God’s conditionate intention of the general grace of his evangelical promise, adds moreover the special intention of God to apply the benefit of Christ’s death, by a more abundant and effectual grace, absolutely, certainly, and infallibly, to the elect alone, without any diminution of that his sufficient and common favour; which as we see so yields to both parts what they desire, as that in the meantime it puts upon both what they are not greatly forward to admit: yet that which it puts upon them may be admitted without any complaint, except perhaps of excess of charity; and that which is yielded is abundantly enough for peace.


1The declarative decree of salvation is to be equally and indifferently proclaimed unto all men. Act. Syno. in [Explic. Thes. Heterodox, i. ut supra, p. 6.]
2[Ferrii “Scholastici Orthodoxi Specimen.” Gotstadii 1616, p. 386.]
3[Musculi Comment, in Esaiam. [liii. 5.] Basil. 1570. pp. 705,6.]
4Magnitudinem pretii distinguit a proprietate redemptionis. [Quod ergo ad magnitudinem et potentiam pretii,sanguis Christi est redemptio totius mundi, &c. Prosper! Reap, ad Object. Vincent. Opp. August, vol. x. App. col. 208.]
5Nulli hominum aingulariter denun- turn pro ipso mortuum non esse. Ibid. Iciatur, [neque ulli denunciatur ] Chris- p. 155.

Joseph Hall, “Via Media: The Way of Peace,” in The Works of the Right Reverent Joseph Hall, (New York, Ames press, 1969), 9:505-511.

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