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John Davenant on the Danger of “Ordering” the Decrees of God

October 1, 2008

Davenant:

HITHERTO we have treated of the death of Christ as it regards the whole human race, in the universal circuit of his quickening power to be brought into act under the condition of faith, as to every man. For although, through the want of this condition, the death of Christ does not display its saving virtue in the greater part of men, yet it is not to be denied, that the Scriptures every where clearly testify, nor is it to be doubted, but God had in himself the most just and wise reasons of his counsel, while he determined that the death of his Son should be applicable to all men on condition of faith, and nevertheless did not determine to effect or procure that it should be applied to all by the gift of faith to each individual. We ought not, therefore, to oppose to each other and clash together these Divine decrees, “I will that my Son should so offer himself on the cross for the sins of the human race, that all men individually may be saved by believing in him;–and–I will so dispense my efficacious grace that not all, but the elect only, may receive this saving faith, whereby they may be saved.” If these two decrees seem to any one to oppose each other, he ought rather to acknowledge the weakness of his own understanding, than to deny any of those things which are so plainly contained in the holy Scriptures. Let this, then, be fixed and established, That according to the decree of God himself, Christ was so offered on the cross for all men, that his death is a kind of universal remedy appointed for all men individually, in order to obtain remission of sins and eternal life, to be applied by faith. But now, lest under this universal virtue of the death of Christ, which extends to all rational creatures, we should destroy its special efficacy, which actually pertains to the predestinated alone, we shall enter upon the other part of the discussion we undertook, which will explain and defend the special prerogative of the elect in the death of Christ, both from the will of God the Father in giving his Son to death, and that of the Son in offering himself. For we ought not so to contend that Christ died for all, as to believe with the Pelagians, that the quickening efficacy of his death is at the same time common to all, from the intention of the Divine will, but in its event becomes saving to some and not to others, no otherwise than from the contingent use of human liberty. Nor are we to fancy with the Arminians, that God gave his Son to death absolutely intending nothing more than that from that that he might haw a mere power of saving some sinners, notwithstanding his justice, and that any sinners might have a way or means by which they might be saved, notwithstanding their own sin.” Hence arises that celebrated corollary of Grevinchovius, in his dissertation on the death of Christ (p. 9,) “That the dignify, necessity, and usefulness of, redemption might abundantly appear by its being obtained, even though it should never be actually applied to any individual.” Again (p. 14,) “That the redemption might be obtained for all, and yet applied to none on account of their unbelief.” But we by no means think that the death of Christ was like the cast of dice, but that it was decreed from eternity by God the Father and Christ, through the merit of his death, infallibly to save some certain persons whom the Scripture marks by the name of the elect; and therefore, that, according to the will of God, the death of Christ was, by some special mode and counsel, offered and accepted for their redemption.

Nor is it here necessary, for the defense of this special counsel, to define that thorny question which has been, tossed about by many, and vexed all who have undertaken to discus it, viz. “Whether that decree was first, which certain persons are predestinated to the infallible participation of eternal life; or the other, by which Christ was ordained to his mediatorial office.” For although, to sustain the weakness of the human understanding, we are compelled to conceive of some of the eternal decrees of God as prior and some as posterior, yet it seems to me a slippery and very dangerous thing to contend about these imaginary signs of our reason, as to undertake to establish and to refute from them questions of faith. It ought, indeed, to be placed beyond all doubt, that those decrees of God, which are thought of by us according to the order of prior and posterior, with respect to God himself consist of an equable eternity of infinity; neither can or ought any separate moment to be granted, in which one decree having been established, it can be rightly supposed, that the other is not yet foreseen and established. Conceive, therefore, that first in order was the decree of God concerning the appointment and sending of a Mediator (which seems to me more suited to our mode of understanding,) and that afterwards was the decree concerning the choice of certain persons to the infrustrable attainment of eternal life through the appointed Mediator; yet you can never so separate these, as that the passion of the Mediator would not have been foreseen from eternity, as offered in some special way and regard for those persons who mere to be chosen, and accepted as if it were offered by God for them specially, and that from eternity. On the other hand, conceive that first in order was the decree concerning the election of certain persons to salvation; that afterwards was the decree concerning the destination of Christ to the office of Mediator, yet you could never so separate these, as that the passion of Christ, which was specially offered and accepted for them, should not be the cause of preparing and giving to those elect persons both effectual grace and salvation. Since, therefore, both these opinions are the same for our purpose, we shall dismiss the discussion of a thing so very unnecessary, and propose and confirm one thesis only respecting the death of Christ as limited by some special consideration to the predestinated alone…

John Davenant, A Dissertation on the Death of Christ, 513-516,

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