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Edward Leigh on God’s Governance of Sin

August 13, 2008

Of the Cause of Sin.

Sin properly is nothing formally subsisting or existing (for then God should be the author of it) but it is an ataxy or absence of goodness and uprightness in the thing that subsists, Psalm 5:4; John 2:16; 1 John 1:5; Habakkuk 1:13; Job 34:10.

The Manichees think that God can be no means be said to will sin, therefore they held two principles, summum bonum, from which all good things, and summum malum, from which all both sins and punishments. They thought it absurd and impossible for any evil to proceed from the chief good. But there can not be a summum malum, as there is a summum bonum, because evil in its own nature is nothing else but a privatio boni, sin a privation of justice and rectitude and an aberration from the Law, and every privation must necessarily be in some subject.

The Church of Rome slanders the Protestants, and says, that they maintain God to be the cause of sin, but we hold that the Devil and man’s corrupt will are the cause of it. Sin in man at first came from Satan, John 3:8 and 8:44; John 6:17; Matthew 16:23, the cause of sin now man is fallen, is from ourselves, Matthew 15:19.

God has no hand in the acting and approving of sin, Romans 3:5, 6, & 9:14. He is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity with approbation; He is the wise permitted, powerful disposer, and eternal avenger of it.

God cannot sin, or cause others to sin:

1. Because as he is subject to no Law which he can transgress, so his will is most holy and pure, and the rule of perfection, Isaiah 6. He is holy in his Nature, Actions, he has so confirmed his Angels in holiness that they cannot sin, 1 John 1:4.
2. To sin is to turn away from the chief and last end, therefore he cannot sin: The Scriptures always attribute it to the Devil and man, Romans 9:14.
3. God threatens sinners in his Word, and punishes them, therefore he allows it not.
4. All deservedly hate the Libertines, who would make that sacred and dreadful Majesty the cause of their detestable enormities, Quicquid ego & tu facimus Deus efficit, nam in nobis est. Calv. Advers. Libert. cap 12. Therefore Bellamine does wickedly in imputing to Protestant Divines that which they detest with the greatest loathing.

That is a great Question in Divinity, Au Deus author peccati ex reformatorum placitus flatuatur?

Four several kinds of power though not in, yet over sin, may be ascribed to God, a permissive, a desertive, restrictive, and disposing power.

First, A permissive power, else it could not be; he may permit what he has not bound to hinder.

Secondly, A desertive power, it would not be if he withdrew not his grace; sin needs no efficient no more than dankness, Causa deficiens in n[?] cralibus[?] efficiens.

Thirdly, A restraining power, there may be an act of restraining grace on the Devil.

Fourthly, a disposing power, whereby he disposes and orders sin to some excellent and good end, his glory: When God does dispose or order the sin in any man,

1. He does not infuse this evil but use it.
2. He uses it not as an evil or sin, but as an instrument.
3. He would not use it to such and end, but that he is able to raise more good by it, and to counterpoise all the evil in the action.
4.God did not infuse malice into Joseph’s brethren, but made use of it rather to a sale than a murder, he sent him before to save much people alive, Genesis 45:8.

In the beginning of sin God’s will is exercised:
First, By way of inhibition in giving a Law against it.
Secondly, By way of permission, leaving a lawless man to a lawless way. In this progress of sin, God either hinders or over-rules it, in the end, he either punishes ir pardons it. And all this without sin, or the least blemish of sin. For in the beginning of sin he shows his Wisdom: In the progress of he shows his Power: In the End, he makes manifest both his Justice and his Mercy. Mr Wisehart on the Lord’s Prayer, Petition 3.

Those places in Acts 2:23; 2 Sam. 1:43; besides permission do express an active providence; he is said to harden and deceive. God’s permission is not otiosa but efficax permissio.

1. God permits sin, and how: See Alesbury his Diatribe de Aeterno Dei decreto[?] c.7.p.279. ad 288.
2. Cooperates to the act as natural.
3. Decreed it.
4. As a just Judge he denies grace.
5. As the supreme Judge he uses all these instruments of his glory.

Papists and Arminians allow God no other power about sin, but what is barely permissive or desertive at most.

There are two ordinary similitudes, one from a halting horse, the rider which makes the horse go is not the cause of his halting, but of his going only; but it is a question whether this clears the doubt, for the rider is but an outward moving cause to the other, he does not work to the motion of the horse as immediately as the horse does, therefore this simile is good and fit if that opinion were true, God does only give being, but not immediately work to the effect itself, and if the simile were to the purpose, it would be, that the rider besides ths outward motion did as immediately help to going as nature it self.

As for the other about a dunghill, the Sun-beams that work upon any boggy places and make them smell, but yet they themselves are not defiled: this would illustrate well for all the sins men run into since the fall, but how will it answer
about the first sin, for Adam’s nature was not a bog?

The best way is to hold is to hold these two truths:

1. God does not sin nor is not the author of it.
2. That he has a providence about it, and for the manner it is hard to determine.

Object. God bid Shemei Curse.
Ans. That was an improper command. And implies only that God used Shimei’s tongue as a whip to scourge David.

Object. Ezekiel 20:25. “Wherefore I gave them also statutes that were not good, and judgements whereby they should not live”: There God seems not only to permit, but also to command sin.

Junius interprets it, Ipsis incommoda noxiaque, and mentions some particulars. I gave them in the wilderness decrees and ordinances, that were not good for them but hurtful; and judgments that did sentence them to death: So the great Annotations, instancing there in some of those judgments.

Weems understands it of the ceremonial statutes, and nicely distinguishes between not good and evil: see Psalms 5:4,5,6. The ceremonial statutes were good in their kind, and in respect of the end for which God had ordained them, Colossians 2;17. Some say God did deliver them over into the hands of wicked Princes, he gave them over in judgment to obey their idolatrous Laws, the statutes of Omri: Others hold the genuine meaning to be that of the Chaldee Paraphrase, they observed statutes which were not right, and customs whereby they should not live.

Some Protestant Authors have used some incommodious and harsh phrases, yet 1. They do most of them use but the Scripture-phrase, and Bellamine himself uses the worse in this manner. With that face can Bellemine lay to Calvin’s charge that he makes God the author of sin, when he wrote two Books against the Libertines, as Bellamine himself acknowledges. 2. De latu peccati, cap. 1. when the Protestants professedly handle the question, An Deus fit Author peccati? They determine it negatively, therefore it is not fair fro their Adversaries to conclude that they hold so by some passages in their writings which may seem to sound that way.

None of our Divines attributes more to God in the actions of sin or determination of the will to evil works, and in decreeing them, than many Papists, especially the Dominicans; from whose doctrine the Jesuits gather the same absurdities which they ascribe to us, that the liberty of human will, and the contingency of things is overthrown, and God is held to be author of sin: Vide Strangium de voluntate & Actionibus Dei Circa peccatum, l. 4. c. 11.

Edward Leigh, A Systeme or Body of Divinity (London: Printed by A.M. for William Lee at the Signe of the Turks-head in Fleet-street over against Fetter-lane, 1662), 411-414. [Marginal References and notes not included.]

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