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Turretin on God’s Providence Over Sin

February 5, 2008


Do sins fall under providence, and how is it applied to them?

I. In this question, which all confess to be the most intricate and difficult among those agitated concerning providence, two extremes occur which are equally dangerous and to be avoided.

Pelagians sin
in defect.

First in defect, wherein an otiose permission about sins is ascribed to in defect. God. The other in excess, when the causality of sin is charged upon God. The former clashes with the providence of God, but the latter with his justice and holiness. Into the former, the Pelagians, who refer the method of God’s providence about evil to a bare and idle permission, run (as if he put forth no action in reference to it, but only indifferently beheld and permitted it).

The Manichaean
and Libertines in

On the latter, however, the Manichaeans, Simonians and Priscillianists formerly struck who made God the cause of wickedness of sins. This sinners readily seize to excuse their crimes: as Homer’s Agamemnon, “I am not to be blamed, but Jupiter and fated (ego d’ ouk aitios eimi, alla Zeus kai Moira, Iliad 19.86-87 [Loeb, 2:342-431); and Lyconides in the Aulularia of Plautus, “God was the instigator, I believe the gods wished it” (The Pot of Gold [Loeb, 1:310-111). This impiety is indulged by the Libertines of the present time.

II. 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.

How God
concurs to
the act of sin

III. First, three things must be accurately distinguished in sin: (1) the entity itself of the act which has the relation of material; (2) the disorder (ataxia) and wickedness joined with it (or its concomitant) which puts on the notion of the formal; (3) the consequent judgment called the adjunct. God is occupied in different ways about these. As to the first, since an act as such is always good as to its entity, God concurs to it effectively and physically, not only by conserving the nature, but by exciting its motions and actions by a physical motion, as being good naturally (in which sense we are said “to live, move and have our being in him,” Acts 17:28).

To the adjunct.

As to the third (which is related to the judgment of God) which is joined with sin, not of itself in relation to the sinner (who thinks or intends no such thing, Gen. 50:20; Is. 10:5-7), but accidentally in relation to God permitting sins and ordaining them to a good end beyond their own nature God holds himself also positively and efficaciously, since what as such has the relation of good must be from God. And although both the fault and the punishment can be the same materially, yet formally and according to different relations (scheseis) vice and judgment, wickedness and guilt can always be distinguished in the same evil action.

To the wickedness.

IV. As to the second, which is the lawlessness (anomia) cause he neither inspires nor infuses nor does it) nor its ethical cause (because he neither commands nor approves and persuades, but more severely forbids and punishes it). Thus God is said to nill iniquity (Pss. 5:4-6; 45:7), so to detest as not to be able to endure it: “He is of purer eyes than to behold evil” (Hab. 1:13); “God tempts no one, nor can he be tempted by any man” (viz., to sin, Jam. 1:13) because he is guiltless of evil (kakon anaitios). But yet sin ought not to be removed from the providence of God, for it falls under it in many ways as to its beginning, progress and end. As to its beginning, he freely permits it; as to its progress, he wisely directs it; as to its end, he powerfully terminates and brings it to a good end. These are the three degrees of providence about sin of which we must speak.

1. As to the
beginning, God
acts: (a) by

V. The first grade respects the beginning of sin, about which we say God is occupied permissively (about which Scripture frequently testifies: “I gave them up to their own hearts’ lusts,” Ps. 81:12; and “God in times past suffered all to walk in their own ways,” Acts 14:16). But because this permission is not explained by all in the same way, its true method must be distinctly stated before all other things.

Which is not
ethical, but

VI. First, this permission is not ethical or moral (which is of right by a relaxation or dispensation of the law, which is opposed to prohibition). In this sense, if God permitted sin, he would also approve it as lawful or just (which is absurd). Rather this permission is physical (which is of fact by a not hindering, which is opposed to effecting). The former regards God as legislator and Judge; the latter, however, as the supreme Lord and ruler of the world, governing and regulating the events of all things according to his will. The former is done by justice when he gives the license to do something; the latter by power when he does not exert the strength which could actually prevent this or that from being done.

Not idle, but

VII. 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, therefore, 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, 19861, pp. 72-73).

VIII. However when we say that permission is occupied positively with sin (if not on the part of the term, at least on the part of the principle, inasmuch as it includes a positive act of the will), this we understand not as if the divine will has sin as an object precisely of itself. For since his will can have for its object nothing but good, it cannot will evil as evil, but as terminated on the permission of that which is good. God, therefore, properly does not will sin to be done, but only wills to permit it. And if at any time sin is called the means of illustrating God’s glory, it does not follow that God (who wills the end) ought also to will sin as such (which is the means to it). For it is called the means not so much causally and effectively (as if concurring finally to effect that end) as materially and objectively (because it is the occasion from which God illustrates his own glory). Again, it is not the means of itself because this rather obscures than illustrates the glory of God, but by accident from the wisdom of God (who elicits good from evil, as light from darkness). (3) He who wills the end wills also the means, but not always by the same volition. If the means are of a diverse nature, he can will the end by an effective volition because the end is of itself good; but he wills the means only by a permissive volition (if it is evil) not so much willing the means itself as the use of the means (to wit, the permission and ordination of sin itself).

IX. However, because it seems strange that God should permit sin, inquiry was made into the causes of that permission. The Arminians think the cause (either sole or principal) is that God is unwilling to help the free will granted to the creature by himself. But this cause does not avail because besides the fact that it is falsely supposed that providence cannot efficaciously concur with the sinning will without doing violence to the free will (which we have already refuted), if this were so, God could never hinder sin, lest the free will be compelled (which nevertheless he evidently often does). Therefore the causes of this permission must be sought elsewhere, and they can be various according to the various states of the creatures. For if innocent creatures are referred to, Scripture says nothing expressly as to the reason why he permitted angels or men to fall. However, because nothing takes place without his knowledge or against his will, it ought not to be doubted that it happened by a certain and deliberate counsel (which it is safer to admire than curiously to pry into). Of this only ought we to be certainly persuaded–that God has done nothing in this business either repugnant to his justice (because he was not bound to hinder sin; or to his wisdom, because since he willed the condition of the creature to be mutable, there was no reason to oblige him to do anything towards it exceeding the mode of nature) or to his goodness (because the love with which he pursues the creature, as long as he continues in his integrity, does not forthwith proceed so far as to be bound to keep him from falling, especially since he can even from that evil elicit also good). Having this in view, Augustine says, “God knew that it pertained more to his most almighty goodness, even to bring good out of evil, than not to permit evil to be” (Admonition and Grace 10 [27] [FC 2:278; PL 44.9321). For if he had not permitted evil, his punitive justice would not have appeared, nor his pardoning mercy, nor the wisdom by which he turns evil into good, nor that wonderful love manifested in sending his Son into the world for the salvation of the church. As to the fallen creature, it is easier to assign the causes of the permission of sin because, since he is already corrupt, God can most justly permit sin either as a punishment (that preceding sins may be punished) or for chastisement (that the faithful, being thus admonished of their natural depravity, may be anxious to correct it) or for an example (that some may learn from the fall of others and walk more cautiously).

X. Now although the man is a partaker of the fault who does not turn anyone away from sin when he can, it does not follow that God in permitting sin becomes in any way guilty of sin because men are bound to hinder sin, both in themselves and in others. Hence the fault of his sons is imputed to Eli (whom he had by his indulgence permitted to sin, 1 S. 3:U); but God is bound to this by no law. Again, that permission bespeaks no influx and causality with respect to the creature sinning as to lawlessness (anomian), but a mere suspension of a hindrance; nor does it take away the spontaneity and choice (poairesin) of the creature, nor prevent it from acting most freely. Nor if sin infallibly follows upon the permission, can he therefore be called its cause but only the antecedent (which is necessarily supposed).

(b) By desertion.

XI. To permission, desertion must be added, by which God, in order not to hinder man from sinning, deserts him by withdrawing the grace opposed to sin or by not giving it so efficaciously as to enable him to overcome the assailing temptation. This withdrawal is either privative (when he takes away the grace given before) or negative (when he does not furnish new grace necessary to persist). In the former sense, God deserts sinful men when he takes away from them the light they abuse and draws back his restraining Spirit. (In consequence of the removal of this barrier they rush with loosened reins into wickedness.) In the latter way, he deserted Adam by not giving (with the help without which he could not stand and by which he had the power if he wished) the help by which he might actually stand and might have the will which could.

Desertion is
threefold: of
exploration; of
correction; penal.

XII. However, this desertion can be threefold: (1) of exploration, when God deserts man to prove him, such as is attributed to Hezekiah when he admitted the Babylonian ambassadors and opened all his treasures to them. God is said to “have left him, to try him, that he might know all that was in his heart” (2 Ch. 32:31). So he deserted Adam, when, permitting the temptation, he did not give him efficacious help by which he might resist it. God, as it were, retired to a distance in order to show how great is the weakness of human nature without the help of the Creator. (2) Of correction, with respect to the church and believers whom God is said to desert for a time that he may afterwards gather them with his everlasting mercies (Is. 54:7; Ps. 125:3 [103:4]). (3) Penal, of the judgment, such as is denounced against sinners (2 K. 21:14; Jer. 7:29; 23:33) and is attributed to the Gentiles, whom he is said to have left in and given over to their own impure desires (Rom. 1:24).

XIII. The cause of this desertion, however, is always just and holy with God. At one time, it is manifest (as the desertion of sinners who deserve it on account of their preceding sins), at another it remains concealed (as in the first sin of Adam). In the meantime, its causality cannot in any way be ascribed to God because by that desertion he neither compelled him to fall, nor breathed into him the will to fall, nor took away any internal grace given in creation. He only denied the undue grace of confirmation (not given) by the most free good pleasure of his own will (by which he dispenses of his own as he will-the equally free denier and bestower of his own gifts). Now although the necessity of the fall was with a denial of that grace, yet the liberty and spontaneity of man sinning was not destroyed. Rather it was shown that God willed that man should certainly fall. But as God willed his certain fall by an eternal decree, so at the same time he willed him to fall most freely; nor did his fall cease to be most free on account of that concourse of God denied to his actual perseverance any more than on account of the most free concourse of God with a necessary cause, the operation of that cause ceases to be necessary or natural.

XIV. However whether besides God’s permission and desertion, there is a certain ulterior operation on his part is not undeservedly questioned. Some sharply contest, others assert it: the former, lest they should bring upon God some taint of wickedness or injustice (which would make him the author of sin); the latter, that they may not withdraw anything from divine providence. It is not indeed to be denied that many passages of Scripture, actively enunciating, can and ought to be explained passively, so that one may be said to do what he only permits and does not hinder: as when David is said to have “kept the Moabites alive (2 S. 8:2), i.e., did not kill them; and Noah to have kept the animals alive (Gen. 6:19), i.e., conserved them. Thus certain passages which indicate action concerning the providence of God in evil, can be explained of his permission or the simple denial of grace (as Augustine often explains “to harden” by “not to soften”). Scripture, however, speaks too emphatically (emphatikoteront)o allow us to rest in permission alone; and we think something more is signified by those efficacious expressions employed, in which not only a certain withdrawal and not hindering on God’s part is marked, but also a certain efficacious action is designated. Hence the Holy Spirit uses verbs not only in the Hiphil, but also in the Piel, by which the action is strengthened: as when he says “God hardened Pharaoh” (Ex. 4:21; 7:3); and elsewhere the Scripture says, “The wives of David were given to his son Absalom by God to be violated” (2 S. 12:ll); yea, “God told Shimei to curse David” (2 S. 16:lO); “Evil spirits were sent by God being commanded to injure” (1 K. 22:23); “He sends a spirit of error (Is. 19:14); “fills with drunkenness” (Jer. 13:12,13); “sends strong delusion that they should believe a lie” (2 Thess. 2:ll); and innumerable other passages which are too strong to be explained of bare permission. Otherwise many of God’s judgments (executed by the reprobate) would be weakened and be the work of bare permission. And so it would be of the death of Christ itself on which our whole redemption hangs; nevertheless, the Holy Spirit expressly testifies that Herod and Pontius Pilate did nothing but what the hand and counsel of God (i.e., his efficacious decree) had determined before should be done (Acts 4:28).

The efficacy
of providence
appears: (1) in
the presentation
of occasions.

XV. No mortal, however, can either conceive or sufficiently explain what that efficacy of providence is. Three things most especially belong to it: (1) the offering of occasions; (2) the delivering over to Satan; (3) the immediate operation of God in the heart. First, the offering of occasions which can be procured only by the peculiar providence of God by the concourse of circumstances and the proposition of objects, fitted to move faculties constituted in this or that way (in which manner God does not infuse wickedness into the minds of men, but draws out into action the wickedness latent there). So for the sale of Joseph, he made the Midianite merchants come along; he willed the avarice of Achan to be excited by the sight of the Babylonian garment (Jos. 7:21); and that David’s lust should be inflamed by the nakedness of Bathsheba. Such things affecting the senses are said and done as that although good in themselves and of a kind by which they ought to be softened, yet the impious falsely abuse them and are hardened by their own fault (as the commandments of God, the Egyptian plagues and the miracles wrought before Pharaoh; and the miracles of Christ: the former ought to have turned the heart of Pharaoh, the latter the hearts of the Jews, yet they hardened them the more).

(2) In delivering
over to Satan.

XVI. (2) He not only presents occasions and objects, but delivers men over to Satan and their own evil desires (as God is said to have “given the Gentiles over to their own vile lusts, and to a reprobate mind” [Rom. 1:24, 26, 281 as a punishment of previous sins). So “an evil spirit from the Lord” is said to have “troubled Saul” (1 S. 16:14) and a lying spirit to have been sent by God into the mouth of the false prophets (1 K. 22:22). Hence God, loosening the reins, works efficaciously in the “children of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2). For although actuated by so great a hatred against God and men as to be spontaneously intent upon all occasions of injuring and thus needing no spur, yet because he cannot attempt or carry out anything against the pleasure of God, he is sometimes sent by God and by his command is said to fulfill his own wicked designs. Now as Satan can be considered in three ways with respect to man (either as a tempter or an accuser or an executioner and tormenter), God can deliver men over to him in these three ways. As a tempter, when he sends the efficacy of error that men may believe a lie and be blinded by Satan (2 Thess. 2:9,11; 2 Cor. 4:4); or as an accuser, when he exposes men to his accusations, as was the case with Job (cf. chap. 1) and Joshua (Zech. 3:l); or as an executioner and tormenter, when he delivers man to be vexed by him both in body and soul (in which sense the incestuous person is “delivered to Satan” by Paul [l Cor. 551, and Hymenaeus and Alexander, 1 Tim. 1:20).

XVII. Satan, however, acts upon men in two ways: either externally by tempting the heart, now by the proposition of objects pleasing to the flesh, so as to impel them to license and rebellion (as was the case with our first parents) then by the sending of calamities and evils to cast them down into despair (as observed in Job and others); or internally by acting on the fancy and through the fancy affecting the intellect (by the representation of those phantasms which can seduce men and excite to evil or recall from good; or by operating on the humors and by the humors exciting the bodily appetites, either to inflame lust, or excite anger or to do other things to kindle the passions [to thymikon] or the desires [to epithymetikon] whose power is great especially in the unrenewed). In this sense, he is said to send into the heart of man what may persuade him; yea, to enter into man himself, as is said of Judas (Jn. 13:2, 27).

(3) In the internal
operation of God.

XVIII. Third, besides the delivering over to Satan, there is also sometimes a certain internal operation of God in man by which he turns the heart of man to the execution of his counsel. Solomon refers to this when he says, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord: he turneth it whithersoever he will” (Prov. 21:l). Augustine says, “God operates in the hearts of men to incline their wills whithersoever he will, whether to according to his-mercy, or to evil according to their desert, as by his own judgment, now open, then secret, yet always just” (On Grace and Free Will 43 [NPNFL, 5463; PL 44.9091). However this can be done either by an internal proposition of objects (which can move the mind and will) or by the impression of thoughts (which although good in themselves, are yet accidentally converted into evil by the vice of corrupt man). Thus the brothers of Joseph think that he is loved by his parents and is honored with dreams by God; these are good thoughts which they impiously abused. Wresting them to envy, they take counsel concerning the removal of him. Pharaoh after the death of Joseph thinks he should see to it that the empire suffers no harm; a good thought undoubtedly sent from God, but falling into an evil mind was perverted to the destruction of the people. So what came into the mind of Caiphas, “It is expedient that one man should die for the people” (Jn.11:50), was good, but was most wickedly abused to the nefarious slaughter of Christ. Again, God internally works in man when he causes objects to move him in a particular direction. For since man is prone to every evil (as containing in himself the seeds of all vices), yet that he inclines to this rather than that arises from no other source than the secret providence of God, inclining him rather in his than in that direction, not otherwise than a stream flowing downwards is turned by the industry of the conduit master in this rather than that direction. Since to men there lie open many ways of injuring, God (shutting others up) leaves one open that they may be moved in that way. Thus the wicked serve to execute his judgments, when he wishes to use them either to punish the wickedness of anyone or to test the faith of the pious or to arouse them from slothfulness. A remarkable instance of this occurs in Nebuchadnezzar drawing out an army against Judea rather than against Egypt (Ezk. 21:21-24). Therefore, since in these and other wonderful and ineffable ways, God can operate in men to execute his own judgments, it is not without reason that their actions are ascribed to the efficacious power of God.

Second, providence
is occupied about
the progress of sin
by termination.

XIX. Thus it is occupied about the beginning of sin. It exerts itself also as to its progress by a powerful termination of it, placing limits to it, both of intension (that it may not grow out into immenseness) and of extension (that it may not spread more widely) and of duration (that it may not continue longer and so do more injury both to the sinner himself and others) This he does either internally by enlightening the mind to perceive the turpitude of sin and the greatness of the punishment due to it or by restraining and curbing the depraved desires) or externally (by repressing the fury of Satan and the world, removing the occasions of evil and also by calling away from sin by commands and threatenings). All this appears from the examples of Laban, Esau, Balaam, Sennacherib and many others (and especially from the history of Job and of Christ)

Third, about the
end, by direction.

XX. Finally, as to the end in its wise ordination and direction, when beyond the nature of sin and the will of the sinner, by his wisdom and power he converts the evil into good and directs and draws it to a good end. “Ye thought evil against me” said Joseph (Gen. 50:20), “but God meant it unto good.” Similar examples occur in Is. 10:s-7, Job 1:20-22, 29,10, Acts13-15. Now this ordination is not to be understood a posteriori (as if God, the existence of sin being foreseen, thought concerning its end), but a priori, by which God proposes an end to himself which he wills to bring about by sinners and their sinful actions (to which he also directs them by his providence because otherwise that ordination of the end would be only occasional and accidental).

XXI. But whatever may be the action of God about sins, still his providence always remains holy and free from all fault (as the solar rays are not affected although they may flow into filth or a carcass). And if at any time the same work is ascribed to God, to the Devil and the wicked (as the selling of Joseph, the hardening of Pharaoh, the calamity of Job, the deceit of Ahab, the numbering of the people, the death of Christ), yet it is ascribed to them in different ways: to God indeed as a most holy work because from a good principle it tends to a good end; to men, however, as most wicked because from an evil principle, by evil means, they tend to an evil end. So the work which the Assyrian was about to perform by the command of God in the abduction of the people was good with respect to God (who will in this way to chastise his own people). He is on this account called “the rod of God’s anger, to whom he gave charge to take the spoil” (Is. 105, 6). Yet it is evil with respect to the Assyrian because he had no other end in view than the cutting off of the people and the fulfilling of his own desires: “I will send him against a hypocritical nation…. Howbeit he meaneth not so, neither doth his heart think so; but it is in his heart to destroy and cut off nations not a few” (Is. 10:6, 7). Therefore as a judge rightly employs lions and other wild beasts for the punishment of the guilty, a physician leeches (yea, even vipers) to cure the sick, so in this, the most wise counsel of God and his admirable power shines forth-that he uses the sins of creatures beyond their intention to good end; not by making the wills or actions of creatures evil, but ordaining them to a good end. As, however, the concourse of God’s providence does not excuse the sinner (because he takes away neither liberty nor choice [proairesin] nor spontaneity), so neither can God be made guilty of sin (because he is always most holily employed in the most wicked works of men and for a good end). Now it is known that impelling and final causes make differences of actions and when there are many causes of the same effect (some good, others evil) such effect is good with respect to the good causes and evil with respect to the evil. “Since the Father delivered up the Son, and Judas delivered up his master, why in this delivery is man guilty andGod righteous, unless because in the one thing which they did, the cause on account of which they did it is not the same has Augustine says (Letter 93, “To Vincent” [FC 18:63; PL 33.3241).

Sources of

XXII. God can rightly be called the cause of what he wills and decrees simply and by. itself. But he did not decree sins simply, but relatively (inasmuch as they are actions); nor by themselves (inasmuch as they are evil works), but by accident (inasmuch as by these actions he willed to carry out his secret judgments). So he willed and decreed the selling of Joseph and the crucifixion of Christ, but with the best end. The former, that the family of Jacob might be preserved; the latter, that the church might be redeemed. Each work was just and holy on the part of God although he willed to follow it out by the wickedness of men (which he did not will to effect, but only to permit). Bellarmine, however, falsely maintains that Gen. 457 and Acts 4:28 are not to be referred to the evil works, but to the “good passions” in them (as what on the part of the agents were most grievous crimes, on the part of the patients, Christ and Joseph bearing with equanimity the selling and the death, were works of the highest patience and consequently very good); cf. “De amissione gratiae et statu peccati,” 2.2 in Opera (1858), 4:79. For Scripture ascribes to God not only the suffering of Joseph and of Christ, but also the action expressly from which that suffering arose. Joseph does not speak passively of himself-“I was sent hither by God”- but actively -“God sent me hither.” The apostles do not say God willed that Christ should die, but actively the counsel and hand of God predetermined the very thing which Herod and Pontius Pilate did. Besides, since action and passion differ not really but rationally, whoever decrees the passion must also decree the action itself. If God willed Joseph to be sold and Christ to be crucified, he also by that very thing willed that the brothers should sell Joseph, and the Jews should nail Christ to the cross.

XXIII. He who impels men to evil (making good wills bad, either drawing them unwilling and nilling or inciting them morally to evil as evil by precept or suasion) is the cause of sin. But God is said to impel wills in themselves evil and spontaneously rushing into evils; not to evils as evils, but as they are his secret judgments. So that he is here to be regarded not simply as Lord (freely permitting the creature to fall), but as a most just Judge (punishing sin by sin) who, therefore, cannot be considered the author of sin, but only the administrator of punishment. Therefore there is one impulsion properly so called (of compulsion) by which violence is done to the free will; another improper and relative which conspires with liberty and involves only a necessity of consequence; or a conditioned necessity (not absolute and consequent). The former is faulty and makes him who uses it the author of sin; but not the latter which God employs towards the wicked.

XXIV. The common axiom-action and effect belong rather to the principal than the instrumental cause; hence it would seem to be inferred that God is the cause of sin because he uses Satan and the wicked as instruments for his work. This common axiom suffers various limitations. (1) It holds good in homogeneous causes, when both causes (the principal as well as the instrumental) are either positive or privative, physical or moral. For example, the word of God as an instrument sanctifies us; therefore much more the Holy Spirit by the word; the false prophet seduces Ahab, therefore much more the devil who acts through him. In the first, each cause is positive; in the last, each is privative. But this is not the case in heterogeneous causes when one (viz., the principal) is positive and physical, the other (viz., the instrumental) is privative and moral; or when one is subject to law, the other, however; irresponsible (anypeuthynos) and above law (or incapable of law). Hence the following do not hold good because the causes are heterogeneous: the sword as an instrument killing a man is not the culpable cause of the homicide, therefore neither is the man wielding the sword; or the executioner, as the instrument of a just judge, punishes the guilty animated by revenge, therefore much more the just judge. In the first, the principal cause is privative, obnoxious to law and moral; the instrumental cause is physical, positive and amenable to no law. In the other, however, the principal cause is positive, moral and congruous with law, but the instrumental is privative, moral and dissonant to law. So here God is the positive, physical, irresponsible (anypeuthynos) cause; men, however, are the privative and moral cause and obnoxious to law.

XXV. (2) It holds good in proper, pure and irrational instruments which borrow whatever they are and do from the principal agent and have nothing of their own intermixed. For there is no principal causality in them, but only an organic which flows from the virtue of the principal agent (as the cause of the homicide, committed with the sword, ought to be imputed not to the sword, but to the man who used it, because the sword is a pure and irrational [alogon] instrument). But it does not hold good in metaphorical and mixed instruments which have something of their own mixed (by which they work), and this they do not borrow from the principal cause. For example, the following does not hold good: a horse struck by the spur of its rider goes lame, therefore the rider himself is more lame. This is not the pure instrument of the rider, but such as has something of its own mixed in the motion of lameness in which it is not subordinated to the rider (viz., a loosened shin bone) which is the adequate and principal cause of the lameness. Thus sinners are not proper and pure instruments, but rational, metaphorical and mixed (which have wickedness from themselves as the proper and adequate cause of sin). (3) The axiom holds good when the action of the principal cause is morally the same as the action of the instrument (as the disciple of Pelagius has a poor opinion of grace, therefore much more Pelagius himself; here the moral action of each cause is the same, of the principal and of the organic). But not equally, when the action is indeed the same materially and physically, but not morally. For then not only is the action of the organic cause not to be ascribed more especially to the principal cause, but it is not to be ascribed at all to it (as the Scholastics rightly teach: “Not from the substance of the real physical act arises the specification of the act as to moral being, but from the diverse moral circumstances”). For the same physical action can be just or unjust according to the diversity of agents, either of those subject to the law or of those unbound by law. And yet here, as was just said, the action of God is not morally the same as the action of the instrument, but only physically. Hence the fault in the instrument is not to be attributed to the principal cause.

XXVI. God commanded Shimei to curse David (2 S. 16:10) by a command of providence, not by a legal command; by a command physically directive, not morally suasive; by a judicial command of the will of good pleasure, as he is a just Judge, punishing and castigating, not by an approving command, of the signified will, as a lawgiver commanding; by a command not properly so called which he made known to Shimei and willed him to obey, but improper and figurative; as God is said to have commanded the fish to throw up Jonah (Jon. 2:10). In David’s case, this is nothing else than the efficacious motion of God by which he inclined the evil will of Shimei to this sin for the punishment of David. Augustine explains it thus: “The Lord said to Shimei, curse David, not by commanding where obedience would be praised, but because he inclined his will, evil by his own proper fault, to this sin by his just and secret judgment” (On Grace and Free Will 1.20 [NPNFl, 5461; PL 44.9061). Thus when God is said to have sent a lying spirit to deceive Ahab (1 K. 22:22), it is not of him approving, but permitting and efficaciously ordaining it for the punishment of the wicked king. He did not give to that lying spirit the license to lie, but loosened the reins to it desirous and offering its aid.

XXVII. The cause of a cause is also the cause of the thing caused, holds good: (1) in adequate causes, provided another true and proximate cause of the thing caused itself does not intervene; (2) in causes by themselves, which produce the effect, inasmuch as they are such when they cause and when it is the cause both of the cause and the thing caused by itself; (3) in causes subordinated essentially and by necessity of nature and mutually depending on each other. But not in like manner, if it is indeed the cause by itself of the cause, but of the thing caused only accidentally (when the inferior cause produces the effect not simply from its own nature, but from some acceding defect). So this does not hold good–the human will is the cause of sin; God is the cause of the human will; therefore he is the cause of sin–for when the created will sins, it turns aside and fails from the order of the first cause. And God who is the cause of the will per se, cannot be called the cause of the evil action, which is from the will not simply in the genus of being (as it is from God), but from the will failing as to the law in the genus of morals.

How hardening
and blinding are
ascribed to God.

XXVIII. God is said to blind and to harden men not only negatively (by not enlightening and softening) and privatively (by withdrawing his grace whatever it may have been after men have abused it) and permissively (by not hindering), but also positively. Not by bringing in blindness or hardness (which is natural to man), but both objectively by presenting external objects to them which although ordained to another direction by their own nature, yet he knows will be drawn in a different way by their vice; and judicially by smiting them internally with blindness (the light which they abused being taken away or extinguished); and by loosening the reins to their lusts and delivering them up and enslaving them to Satan; and acting in many other inexplicable ways by which he exercises the judgment of just blinding and hardening upon the contumacious. Yet this does not hinder the wicked also from blinding and hardening themselves by the abuse of those things by which especially they ought to be softened (such is the longsuffering and kindness of God, Rom. 2:4). The light of the word and the sweetness of the gospel, which becomes to them “a savor of death unto death” (2 Cor. 2:16), and the very castigations of God by which they ought to be corrected, make them more obstinate-“O Lord, thou has stricken them, but they have not grieved; they have made their faces harder than a rock” (Jer. 5:3). So one hardening is culpable on the part of men who harden themselves; just and penal on the part of God who hardens them by his righteous judgment for the punishment of previous sins.

And temptation.

XXIX. Temptation may be of trial or of seduction; the former good, the latter evil; that belongs to God, this to the Devil (who on that account is called the tempter [ho peirazon] because as he tempted Adam and Christ, so every day he tempts believers to evil). In this sense, James says “God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man (1:13) because God has nothing in himself which inclines in the slightest degree to sin (nay, which is not most widely separated from it). Thus he cannot be said to solicit others to sin, either by commands or counsels or any internal persuasion. If at any time he is said to tempt men (as Abraham [Gen. 22:1] and the Israelites [Dt. 8:2]), this must be understood of the temptation of trial, not of seduction. It is done to explore the faith and constancy of man (not that he is ignorant of them who is omniscient, but to make them known to man himself and to others). When we seek in the Lord’s Prayer, “Lord, lead us not into temptation,” we do not depreciate the former temptation (which is good), but the latter (which is evil). Into the latter, God can be said to lead us when he not only permits us to fall into it, but delivers us over to our lusts and to Satan (by which we are tempted). Thus we seek from the hypothesis of the divine will (i.e., if it so pleases God) that he may so provide for us that we be not led into the danger of temptation. But if it otherwise pleases God, either to permit it and to deliver us over to the will of our spiritual enemies that we should succumb to their temptations, but that strengthened by grace we may overcome them. Thus “he will not suffer us to be tempted above that we are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that we may be able to bear it” (1 Cor. 10:U). Hence Augustine says, “What is it, however, we say every day-Lead us not into temptation-except that we be not delivered over to our lusts, for each one is tempted being drawn away and allured by his own lusts?” (Against Julian 5.4 [FC 35:259; PL 44.7931). And “Lead us not into temptation, means, permit us not to be drawn into it by desertion” (Letter 157 [89], “To Hilary,” 2.5 FC 20:321; PL 33.6751).

And seduction
Jer. 20:7.

XXX. What is said in Jeremiah (“O Lord, thou hast deceived me, and I was deceived,” 20:7) is not to be so understood as if God led him into dishonesty and error. For although God is said at one time to have put a lying spirit into the mouth of the false prophets of Ahab, yet it cannot be said that any of the holy prophets, whom God inspired, ever so erred as to predict a false thing in his name; or ever wandered from the truth in the prophetic office (although otherwise not infallible). But it can be understood in different ways. Either phthh (whence the Greek peitho seems to be derived) may be taken in a good sense for ‘to allure,” “entice” or “persuade ” (as also elsewhere, Gen. 9:27; Prov. 2515; Hos. 2:14); or in this sense, “Thou hast allured me, and I was allured,” i.e., to enter upon and perform my office, thou alone art to me the author of my calling and thou hast in some measure constrained me refusing. Or if it is taken in a bad sense for seduction (as in Ezk. 14:9), it must be understood hypothetically: if I am seduced that I may seduce others (as my enemies calumniate me), thou, O Lord, hast seduced me. But this is false, therefore that is too-intimating that their calumnies fall upon God (the author) or his doctrine. Or the words are humanly spoken according to the carnal sense and perturbation of mind (to wit, Jeremiah from weakness and the judgment of the flesh complains of being deceived by God and that too, because from the words of God falsely understood, he had experienced far otherwise than he thought God had indicated to him; not with the fault of the speaker, but of the hearer; for God had not said that he would not suffer, but that he would deliver him). If elsewhere he is said to seduce prophets or the people (Ezk. 14:9; Jer. 4:10), this is rightly referred both to God’s permission and desertion because he permits men to be deceived and opposes no obstacle; and to the delivering over to Satan because he gives them up to Satan and impostors to be deceived.

Job 12:16, 17.

XXXI. When it is said “the deceiver and the deceived are God’s” (Job 12:16), it can be understood in two ways: either in the dative (“the deceiver and the deceived are to God”) to intimate that both the ignorance of deceived man and the wickedness of impostors and deceivers serve God (i.e., divine providence) as if his ministers, while God performs his secret (euarestias) will by them who resist his revealed will (eudokias) (inasmuch as he elicits good from evil). Or it may be understood in the genitive (“the deceiver and the deceived are of God”) because each is in his power, so that no one errs or leads into error unless so far forth as it pleases him to permit (who can, if he will, both hinder and remove the error and the seduction; or because the very act of erring, when anyone seduces, is from God).

XXXII. When God says, “I gave my people also statutes that were not good, and judgments whereby they should not liven (Ezk. 20:25), he seems not only to permit, but to command sin. The passage is explained in different ways. Some by “statutes not good” understand the idolatrous precepts of the Gentiles to which God in anger subjected his people (whose observance would bring eternal death upon them). Thus he may be said to have “given” because he permitted them to be given or because he blinded them by his just judgment (as unworthy of his government and enslaved to the empire of Satan) to obey a lie (which is the same as, I have taken away their understanding so that, my laws being despised, they may make severe and destructive laws for themselves). Others more fitly hold that they designate the very law of God, moral as well as ceremonial. Thus it is called “not good” either because it is useless for salvation (being “weak through the flesh,” Rom. 8:3) or because ungrateful and unpleasant (as good is often taken for agreeable, Gen. 3:6) and so it is called elsewhere a grievous and intolerable yoke (abastakton, Acts 15:lO); or because noxious and deadly, not per se, but by accident on account of the perversity of man (in which sense it is elsewhere called “the letter which killeth” and “the ministry of condemnation,” 2 Cor. 3:6, 9″).

XXXIII. when we say with the Scriptures that the sins of men are permitted by God and efficaciously directed to a good end, we do not mean that the sins and crimes of the wicked are good works. Rather in the works done by the wicked, the motions and actions are good works in the genus of being and just judgment of God, as the lawlessness (anomia) of the motions and actions is morally evil and from evil persons. So the evil intention of man is not from God in the genus of morals, but only in the genus of being. And if the end is said to conciliate goodness and loveliness to the means, it does not follow that sins (because ordained by God to a good end) are good. The axiom avails only of means (which of themselves tend to a good end) not of those which (beyond their own nature) are directed to it by the wisdom and power of God (such as sin is).

XXXIV. The rule of the apostle “We must not do evil, that good may come” (Rom. 38) does not apply here. It is one thing to do evil, but another to permit it, or to direct it to a good end and turn it into good. The former indicates injustice; the latter wisdom, goodness and power. (2) It is not lawful for men, who are accountable (hypeuthynoi), either to do evil, or to permit it; nor can such permission be granted in them without fault. But this cannot be said of God, who is not responsible (anypeuthynos), who has the best and wisest reasons for permitting. (3) If at any time Scripture says that God does evil, it does not mean evil reduplicatively as evil (in which sense it cannot have the relation of good), but inasmuch as it has the relation of judgment and is conducive and ordainable to the manifestation of his own glory (in which sense it has the relation of good).

XXXV. Whatever may be the action of God about sin, no reason for excuse can on that account be brought forward by the sinner: whether because he fulfils the will of God (because the will is not revealed and signified, proposed for a rule of life, but secret and of good purpose, which he does not know and least attends to, not approving or commanding, but most justly decreeing); or because that will cannot be resisted by man (because whatever of necessity is here happens by reason of the event, not by reason of the mode of action; of infallibility, not of compulsion; of consequence and relative, not of the consequent and absolute). Hence Paul, stopping the mouth of the wicked, says, “Who art thou, O man, that repliest against God?” (Rom. 9:19, 20). Or because God himself is said to harden and to blind (because the action of God does not overthrow man’s liberty of action, for he is so hardened and blinded by God that he also most freely blinds and hardens himself; and because God’s action is judicial, which men have already deserved on account of their previous sins).

Turretin, Institutes, 1:515-528.

[keywords: permission of sin]

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