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John Davenant on the Conditonal and Revealed ‘Intention’ of God for the Salvation of All Men

September 25, 2008

Davenant:

THE gracious and saving will of God towards sinners is to be considered, as effectually applying to some persons, of his special mercy, the means of saving grace, according to that saying of the Apostle, “He hath mercy on whom he will;” or, as appointing sufficiently for all, of his common philanthropy, the means of saving grace, applicable to all for salvation, according to the tenor of the covenant of grace, as the Evangelist has said, God so loved the world, &c. Those whom the Divine will or good pleasure embraces under the first description, on them it always confers the means of saving grace in this life, and the end of grace, that is, life eternal, or glory, in the world to come (Rom.viii. 28,29, &c.; Eph. i. 3-5, &c. Those whom the Divine will embraces only under the latter description, on them it sometimes confers the means of saving grace, and sometimes does not; but it never confers the end of grace, that is, eternal life.

In this opinion, which is said to have been that of D. Cameron, the first member of the sentence is legitimately constructed, if he understands, that particular election, mere good pleasure, and effectual calling to grace and glory, depend in such a manner on the Divine will, that it does not separate this Divine will from the foreseen acts of the human will. For he who does this, falls into the error of the Semipelagians.

The second member of the sentence is involved and perplexed with so many ambiguous forms of speaking, that it is difficult to determine its truth or falsehood, without first dividing it into portions.

PART I.

Christ died for all men individually, with some general intention.

Christ is rightly said to have died for all men, inasmuch as on his death is founded a covenant of salvation, applicable to all men while they are in this world. Nor can he be improperly said to have died for each individually, inasmuch as his death may profit each for salvation, according to the tenor of the new covenant, none being excluded. On the other hand, it cannot profit any individual, contrary to the tenor of that covenant, although he should be of the elect. If Cain or Judas had believed and repented, he would be saved through the benefit and merit of the death of Christ. If David or Peter had not believed, nor repented, he would not be saved. In this sense the death of Christ may be understood to be set equally before all men individually.

What is added in the last place, concerning the general intention of God, by which he wills that all men individually should be saved through the death of his Son, needs explanation. It must be observed, therefore, that according to the custom of the Scriptures, the Divine will or intention sometimes denotes merely the appointment of means to an end, although there is no determinate will in God of producing that end by those means. And the Schoolmen refer this intention or will of God to the common order of Providence. In this sense he willed and intended the obedience and salvation of the angels who apostatized, inasmuch as he furnished them with gifts, fit in themselves and suitable, to perform obedience and obtain salvation. And in this sense God, with a general intention, wills life to all men, inasmuch as he willed the death of Christ to be the fountain and cause of life to all men individually, according to the tenor of the evangelical covenant. But we must observe, that the Scriptures mention another will or intention of God, and that properly so called, which never fails in producing the good intended, and which the Schoolmen refer to the order of special predestination. Of this intention or will of God, Augustine rightly says from the Psalmist, (Ench. cap. 97) “In heaven and in earth there are some things which God did not both will and perform; there are some things which he willed and did not perform, though he hath done all things whatsoever he would.” And Aquinas, (1. qu. 10, art. 6.) “Whatever God simply wills, he perform.” If, therefore, by this general intention of God to procure the salvation of all men by the death of Christ, they wish to exclude the special will, and special and effectual operation of God in effecting the salvation of the elect; or if they would infer from thence, That the benefit of the death of Christ, that is, the grace of God and eternal salvation of men (as far as relates to God) is intended for all men individually with the same kind of will, and is applied by the same mode of operation, really and actually to be had and obtained by each individual, according as he makes a good use of his own free-will; they bring forward Semipelagianism. But if by this general intention they mean nothing more than a general aptitude and sufficiency in the death of Christ to effect the salvation of all men individually in the mode of an universal cause, or a general appointment of God concerning the salvation of all men individually, who, through the grace of God, duly apply to themselves this universal cause; then there is no need to reject this form of speaking. John Davenant, “On the Controversy Among the French Divines of the Reformed Church,Concerning ‘The Gracious and Saving Will of God Towards Sinful men,'” published with, Dissertation on the Death of Christ, 563-565.

Lastly, I think that no Divine of the Reformed Church of sound judgment, will deny a general intention or appointment concerning the salvation of all men individually by the death of Christ, on this condition–If they should believe. For this intention or appointment of God is general, and is plainly revealed in the Holy Scriptures, although the absolute and not to be frustrated intention of God, concerning the gift of faith and eternal life to some persons, is special, and is limited to the elect alone. John Davenant, “On the Controversy Among the French Divines of the Reformed Church,Concerning ‘The Gracious and Saving Will of God Towards Sinful men,'” published with, Dissertation on the Death of Christ, 568-569.

[Note: What is interesting here is that the word “intention” became for many of the Protestant Scholastics a technical term denoting only the effective will of God. For them, Divine “intention” referred only to the decretive will. One can see this in men such as Owen and Turretin, et al. For others, the word could denote both aspects of God’s will, the decretal aspect, and the revealed aspect. What is also interesting is that from my reading of Calvin, Bullinger, Musculus, Zwingli, et al, the word is absent in their discussions on this subject. That is not to say they did not see the revealed will as active and in a sense purposefully seeking the salvation of all men (see Calvin on Matt 23:37, John 3:16, 12:47-48, for example). What is more, it may be, that the word “intention” replaced the idea of “conditional predestination” as used by Zanchi and Bucer, who said all men are conditionally predestined to salvation. And it may be that the word that replaced Musculus’s idea that all men were ‘appointed’ to life. Lastly, for Cameron and Amyraut, and many others, the revealed will (following Calvin) was not simply a passive complacency or desire that men comply with the commands of God, but also an active principle which inclines God to actively seek the salvation of all men (again this idea follows from Calvin, and which was recaptured by men like Howe and Dabney).]

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Martin T permalink
    September 25, 2008 3:56 pm

    Davenant’s distinctions in the first quote are helpful. Shame they are not more widely known.

    BTW there appears to be a typo in the first sentence of the penultimate paragraph.
    Martin

  2. CalvinandCalvinism permalink*
    September 25, 2008 5:10 pm

    Hey Martin,

    Thanks for reading and posting. I corrected the typo.

    Yes, what is important too is that Davenant refused to lay out some decretal ordering. I am going to post that soon. The question then comes to this: did Amyraut really lay out a decretal ordering? What I am trying to say is, what is it about what he said that led so many of his opponents to accuse him of positing a specific ordering which gave the impression that he posited a conditional decree as part of this alleged sequence? Or, if he did posit some sort of sequential decrees, did he use the word “decree” equivocally? For that I mean, think about the infra- and supralapsarian decrees, you will see that for each element the word is used univocally. We know that when he did speak of conditional decree in his Tract, he meant it as an expression of the revealed will, which he later reasserted at the Synod.

    Thanks and take care,
    David

  3. Martin T permalink
    September 26, 2008 3:08 am

    I will look forward to the next post on Davenant. It would be great to hear more about Amyraut and the decrees but is there enough of his works available in English to fully tackle it? But, if I’m reading you right, the implication of what you’re saying is that when Amyraut used the word ‘decree’ he didn’t at all mean what any modern high calvinist would mean. Its that problem of how we read our own meanings of words into what someone says without trying to understnad them on their own terms.

    Thanks,
    Martin

  4. CalvinandCalvinism permalink*
    September 26, 2008 8:25 am

    Hey Martin,

    Yes, at the Synod of Alencon he explicitly said that by the phrase conditional decree he meant conditional will. Both Armstrong and Van Stam acknowledge this. Its clearly the meaning in his Tractatus. My speculation is that he sought to outline a sort of redemptive map, using his own language, which was then reinterpreted by his opponents.

    For example, G Michael Thomas outlines an order by Cameron:
    1) to restore the divine image
    2) to send the Son so that all who believe should be saved
    3) to render some people to believe
    4) to save those who believe

    Then Thomas quotes Cameron as saying, the first 2 decrees are general, the last two special. (Thomas, 163).

    We are talking about an age when this sort of thing was part of the daily diet of theological meals.

    The problem is, it looks like his opponents treated his use of “decree” univocally, and so counter-charged Cameron, and Amyraut, as holding to a conditioned absolute decree.

    It seems to me the whole idea of mapping out any ordering is wrong, as all lead to reductionism and selection. For example, even in the infralapsarian decree, we still know and believe that God decreed other thins relating to the work of Christ and the salvation of all men (vis a vie the decree regarding the Gospel proclamation which is the means by which God seeks the salvation of all hearers). But if we only had the infralapsarian ordering exhausting our biblical and systematic knowledge base, we would be crippled Christians for sure.

    Further, if we look at my last example there, it seems to me that ‘decree’ is being used in a way that presupposes absolute decree and legislative decree together.

    Make sense?

    Thanks,
    David

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