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John Davenant on Divine Mercy and Justice

October 3, 2008

Davenant:

Whether absolute Reprobation oppose God’s Mercy.

What the Author discourses in general concerning God’s Mercy considered absolutely, comparatively, and in its naturalness, in the amplitude of its object, &c., is to no great purpose, unless upon such antecedents this conclusion will certainly follow, “Therefore Predestination and Reprobation cannot be absolute acts of God’s freewill, but must needs proceed according to his prevision of men’s future acts and deservings. The weakness of these consequents shall in particular be showed hereafter, when I have first set down some general considerations concerning the Mercy or Justice or other virtues in Scripture ascribed unto God.

And first we must know, “That though the names of habitual virtues be attributed unto God, yet it is impossible hat any such habits should truly and really belong unto the Divine will; Quontam habitus non dantur, nisi tanquam supplementa poteniarum earum que intra ordinem potentia non sunt perfectae. Unless therefore we hold God’s power of willing in itself to be imperfect and to want supervenient rectifying habits, we must not avouce with this Author that Justice, Mercy, Holiness, &c., are in God’s will the same in nature which these virtues are in men, and only differing in degree.

Secondly, though in God there be permanent inclination or natural disposition to produce those outward effects which in us proceed from the habitual virtues, as To endow his creatures with many good things, which we term Bounty or Liberality; To help them out of their miseries, which we term Mercy; To punish them according to their misdeserts, which we call Justice, and the like: yet God should not have been covetous or niggardly, had he never diffused drop of his bounty to any creature, but kept and enjoyed his goodness within himself, as he did before the creation: He should not have been cruel or unjust, had he freed no man out of that misery whereunto all mankind was fallen: neither should he have wanted any virtue, or done contrary to his justice, had he freed all men out of their misery, and brought them to eternal felicity. The outward temporal acts therefore of Divine Justice or Mercy may be terminated or not terminated upon any man according to the absolute freewill of the most wise God, and that without opposing any attribute of his. To this purpose Carthusianus, Cum Deus sit bonorum omnium dominator, & in ipsum peccat qui peccat, ipse postest plus conferre de bonis quam sit alicui debitum, & minus inferre de malis, seu totam poenum relaxare, nec in hoc contra sed praeter institutum facere. Vide Halens. part. 1.q.39 art. 4. & 5.

Thirdly, it is to be observed, “That however mercy and justice are by us considered as distinct virtues or operations in God, yet his remunerative justice should never find a fit object, had he not by some benefit of free mercy and grace himself fitted it thereunto: And this is the benefit which we call absolute Election or Predestination. Neither should this vindictive justice find any objects fitted for it to pass upon, had he been pleased to grant the said free benefit to all men: and therefore we term the negation of this benefit or free favor, absolute Non-election, Preterition, or (in a more harsh word) negative Reprobation. The foreseen faith and perseverance of Peter had not made him an object fit by way of remuneration to be invested with eternal life, had not a former absolute and free act of God’s mercy fitted him with the gifts of faith, holiness and perseverance. Aquinas has well set down and demonstrably proved this theorem, Opus Divina justitiae semper praesuponit opus misericordae, & in eo sundatur. There is the theorem itself: now for the demonstration. Creaturae debetur aliquid nisi propter aliquid in eo praeexisttens vel praeconsideratum. Et rursus, si illud creaturae debetur, hoc erit propter aliqid priis ad aliquid quod ex solabonitata Divina voluntatis dependeat, qua est ultimus finis. Let all the Remonstrants lay their heads together, and tell us what is primuna indebitum which depends upon the will of God alone, but the grace of absolute Election or Predestination, for which we plead. Again, Judas his final damnation had not been fore-appointed had not his final impentience been preconsidered. His final impenitency had not been foreseen, had that primum indebitum which depends only upon God’s absolute will and free mercy been bestowed upon him as it was upon Peter. Nam volumtas Dei qua vult bonum alicui diligendo, est causa quod illud bonum ab eo prae aliis habeatur. And without all prejudice to his justice he might out of his absolute will thus have elected Judas, and by the grace of election have freed him both from final impenitency and eternal misery. And therefore Carthusianus truly says, Causa naturae & proprietatum ejus est Divina voluntas: ideo totus ordo justitae originality ad Divinam voluntatem reducitur. And again, Dico quod Deus ordinavit A ad effectum praedestinationionis, & non B, &c., Quamvis si voluisset, ita patuisset misericordiam manifestare in B, ipsum praedestinando, sicut in A. All this tends to show that the preparing and giving of that which we call primum indebitum beneficium in ordine ad infallibilem vitae aeterna consecutionem, is an act of God’s absolute will and love or free mercy, and yet not the contrary to his justice: and on the other side, the not-preparing and not-giving of the same benefit is also a decree or act of his absolute will, and yet no act of cruelty, or contrary act either to do the nature of the Divine mercy or justice. But let us see how he will prove that absolute Reprobation cannot stand with the mercy of God.

His premises are these: God is so merciful, that mercy is part of his title. God’s mercy absolutely is set forth in high and stately terms, RICH, GREAT, &c., his Justice a strange work: He is more frequent in the exercise of his Mercy then in his Justice. He extends it to more objects upon less occasion, &c.

All this granted, will not infer this conclusion, “Therefore Election and Non-Election (or negative Reprobation) depend not upon God’s absolute will, but upon the different foreseen will and acts of men. What a vain lab our is it to amplify and exaggerate premises which are of no force to induce the conclusion intended, nay which for the most part are rather of force overthrow it? Let us weigh in the particulars.

God is merciful. True: but the dispensation of his mercy is different, to some more, to some less, according to the absolute purpose and counsel of his own will. This absolute Non-election is not a denial of all mercy, much less an act of the unmercifulness or cruelty. It is only a purpose of not bestowing upon some persons that choice mercy and effectual grace which would infallibly bring them unto glory, and a permission of them by their own freewill to abuse those means of salvation which are afforded them. And hereupon follows God’s absolute prescience of their final impenitency, and his fore-appointment of them to their just punishment. The Master of Sentences [Lombard] speaks fitly to this purpose: “Reprobatio Dei qua ab aeterno non-elegendo quosdam reprobavit secundum duo consideratur: quorum alterum prascit & praeparat, scil aternam poenam.  I would know what can be found in this negative Reprobation, qua Deus non-eligendo quosdam reprobat, which proves him unmerciful. Not the negation summi & indebiti beneficii; for that is an act of absolute liberty, not of cruelty and injury; for that is an act of the understanding, not of the Divine will: nor the resolution to punish them; for that being with respect unto their sins is just, not cruel.

God is mercy in the abstract, a Father of Mercies: His nature and property is always to have mercy and to forgive. These and such like places prove two things: First, that acts of mercy flow unto us many times from God’s natural bounty, unpromised, undeserved, undesired on our parts. But we answer, that this prime mercy, which is not promised upon condition to any particular person, is at God’s own absolute will for bestowing or withholding: and this we retort against the Remonstrants. For the mercy which shows itself in Election being of this kind, it is an error to make either the the bestowing or non-bestowing it to depend upon conditions foreseen or not foreseen in men. Secondly, the Scriptures above alleged, prove that God extends his mercy at all times and to all persons indifferently according to the tenor of the promise: that is, he never fails to forgive the penitent sinner, to bestow the Crown of eternal life upon the faithful and constant believers. If he could have alleged any Scripture which had avouched that it is God’s nature and property to give repentance, faith, perseverance to all men, he had quite overthrown absolute Election and Non-election: But since God, who could have prepared and bestowed the gift of faith and perseverance as well upon this man as upon that, and who according to his ordination and promise has bound himself to forgive and to save this man if he repent, if he believe, if he persevere, as well as that, and yet neither decreed to give, nor gives to this as to that, surely he has elected some, and not-elected others, out of his own absolute will and pleasure.

God’s mercy is set out in high and stately titles, RICH, GREAT, ABUNDANT, WITHOUT DIMENSIONS &c.

Most of these places speak of that rich and special Mercy which God has extended to some in their effectual vocation, justification, sanctification, and which he will most certainly extends towards them in their glorification; as will appear to any man that shall particularly weigh them. From these places if I should reason thus, God has showed GREAT, RICH, ABUNDANT mercy to some, in choosing them before the foundations of the world were laid, in effectually calling them, even when they were dead in sin, in freely justifying them, in mercifully glorifying them; and he has not done thus for many others: therefore Election and Non-election depend upon the absolute will of God, and not upon the foreseen acts of men, this were a good conclusion: But to conclude, “Therefore there is no decree of absolutely Election and Non-election,” it is not only inconsequent, but contrary to the premises. And yet further, if such places of Scripture should be applied to that rich mercy which God is ready to extend to every man who performs the conditions of repenting, believing, persevering, they make nothing against the decrees of absolute Election and Preterition, unless he can show that God has prepared the same riches of his mercy to make all men fulfill the conditions. For if this preparation be made for some and not for others, and that according to God’s absolute will, and not according to the foreseen differences of good and bad wills in men; this rich mercy of God which this Author has mentioned for the confuting of absolute Election and Non-Election is rather a confirming thereof.

Mercy is more natural and pleasing unto God: vindictive Justice is a strange work. He does not willingly afflict, &c.

That is said to be natural and pleasing unto God, which comes originally from himself, and is not an act depending upon the misdeserts of the creature. But this naturalness of God’s mercy and bounty does not show itself in the outward effects thereof, as natural agents do, who work according to the uttermost of their power, and as far as the sphere of their activity can, reach. Let bounty and mercy therefore be never so natural to God, it forces him not int he same measure and manner to extend the effects of his mercy unto all but he always guides the dispensation thereof according to the absolute and free decrees of his own will: so that the naturalness of his mercy hinders not the limiting of that special mercy which flows from Election unto such singular persons as himself intends it unto; neither does it forbid him to withhold the same from such singular persons as he has decreed to pass by in the dispensation thereof. And this absolute liberty and supreme dominion which God has in the preparing or not-preparing of effectual grace, wherein the absolute decrees of Election and Non-election do show themselves, is a thing as natural and as pleasing unto God as his Mercy.

As for vindictive Justice, it may be called a strange work, because it is opus occasionatum by man’s transgression. But as Predestination is no act of remunerative Justice, no more is negative Reprobation or Non-elect of vindictive Justice: but they are both acts of God’s absolute dominion and free liberty, in giving or withholding his own according to his own will and pleasure.

A strange argument, grounded upon a manifest error, namely, “That the absolute decree of Non-election is the exercise of God’s anger and vindictive justice upon persons not elected.” There were angels upon persons not-elected according to God’s decree, before the world or Angels were made: but there was no exercise of anger or vindictive justice upon them till after they had rebelled. Non-election is an absolute decree of withholding an undue favor, but it is no absolute decree of inflicting any undeserved punishment. Neither does it follow from the absolute decree of Non-election, that God is less frequent in the acts of Mercy then of Anger. For though he have not exercised this special act of Mercy, yet he exercises daily innumerable acts of Mercy towards the Non-elect beyond all desert of theirs.

In the amplitude of the objects to whom it is extended; Mercy surmounted Justice. God “visiteth the third and fourth generation; sheweth mercy to thousands. His mercy reacheth as much further,” &c.

Showing of mercy to those which love God, and punishing those which hate him, are the exercising of God’s remunerative and vindictive Justice according to his own ordination: But the preparing of that special grace for some men which being given them causes them to love God and constantly to walk with God; and the not-preparing the same for others is the act or decree of Election and  Non-election. Now what a loose and wild manner of reasoning his this? “Remunerative Justice reaches further then vindictive; therefore there is no absolute decree of Non-election. Justice in the number of objects comes short of mercy; therefore there is no absolute decree of Non-election.?” Justice must needs come short of mercy, because (though  not the special mercy of Election, yet) mercy, yea manifold mercies are bestowed upon every singular man in the world. So that the Elected by special grace being freed from becoming objects of God’s vindictive Justice, and both Elected and Non-elected being objects of his Mercy in divers measures and after divers manners, we may grant a larger extent of Mercy then of vindictive Justice, and yet without all prejudice to absolute Election and Not-election. For as long as God deals unjustly or cruelly with no man, his dealing more mercifully with Peter in preparing effectual grace for him by the decree of Predestination, and less mercifully with Judas in not preparing for him such grace by an opposite decree of Preterition, is no denial of the generality of his mercy, but an affirmation of more mercy to one then to another. Misericordia dia respicit absolute Divinum effectum non concernendo aliquam equalitatem in ipso. Unde secundum majorem vel minorem misericordia effectum dicitur misericordia cum uno quam cum alio agere. And yet he deals unmercifully with no man.

In the occassions that move God to exercise Mercy or Justice, Mercy has the preemininence. It is a greater matter that moves God to punish, a smaller, &c.

All this is quite beside the question, unless it be first proved that Preterition,  Non-election or Non-Predestination are acts of vindicative Justice. This has formerly been denied, and as yet was never proved; and therefore whatsoever is here discoursed of God’s deferring punishments, of small occasions which betakes to hold his hand, and the like are impertinent.

God’s mercy or love is compared with the affection of a Father, nay of a tender Mother, and with the most affectionate females, as with the Hen, &c. Now with such a Mercy cannot stand a decree of absolute Reprobation.

This Author (by his continual manner of speech) seems to attribute unto God such a natural affection towards men as is found in Fathers, Mothers, in birds and brute Beasts towards their young. But we must know first, that misericordia dia ponitur in Deo, non secundum affectum, sed secundem effectum. Secondly, as where love or pity does the uttermost it well we can in relieving the persons pitied or loved; so where it is only secundum relevationis effectum, there it works more or less according to the free determination of the agent. Thirdly, the natural affection of love or pity towards their young ones does not in brute beasts so equally determine their affection, but they inwardly may bear and outwardly may show more affection and more effects of their affection to one then to another. And in men the natural affection of love does not so determine Fathers or Mothers, but it leaves Jacob free to love Joseph more then this brethren, and to give unto him more effects free to love Jacob more then Esau, and to do more for him then for Esau. If natural affection in Beasts to towards their young ones excludes not all difference of more and less in their love; if the natural love of Parents to their children be no hindrance but they may show more effects of this love to one, and less to another; then God, in whom Love or Mercy are effections and not affections, may freely both in natural and supernatural things do more for some, and less for others. The decree therefore of Non-election or negative Reprobation, being not a decree which denies all effects of love or Pity to the Non-elect, but a decree only denying them that high and choice effect of infallibly direction unto eternal life, this decree may well stand with the Mercy and Love of God.

For those inferences therefore, that if absolute Reprobation be granted, God may more properly be called a Father of cruelty, ‘apolluos.’ I marvel how he trembled to think of them, and never trembled to utter them. That wherein he perpetually is mistaken, is the making of Non-election or negative Reprobation a vindictive act, the confounding it with the judicial sentence of Damnation, the conceiving it to work in the Non-elect an invincible necessity of comitting sin, with such other monstrous fancies which he takes for principles needing no proof; whereas they are such gross errors as need no confutation. Non-election takes not up God’s mercy so short, but every man in the world has a share in it, though not an equal share. And if God’s Mercy and Love must be understood secundum effectum, and not secundum affectum, let him find out any man or any creature in the world which has conferred so many and so great effects of mercy and love upon his young ones as God did upon Cain, Judas or any other reprobate, and then let him advance their love above the love of God.

John Davenant, Animadversions Written By the Right Reverend Father in God, John, Lord Bishop of Sarisbury, upon a Treatise intitled “God’s love to Mankind,” (London: Printed for Iohn Partridge, 1641), 218-229. [Some spelling modernized. Marginal citations not included.]

[Note: On the point of creatures loving their young, therefore God must love all his created “offspring” see also Calvin’s similar statements in, The Secret Providence of God,” in Calvin’s Calvinism, 266-270. Davenant’s answer is the same as Calvin’s.]

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