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Experience Mayhew (1673-1758) on Divine Permission of Sin

May 15, 2009

Mayhew:

1) 4. From God’s permitting free Agents thus to act, the Things in this Way brought to pass, will as certainly have a Being as if God decreed to bring them about by a positive Act of his Power. For if he himself does, or decrees to do all that is necessary in order to their Futurition, giving his Creatures all the Power and Aid that is necessary thereunto, administering also the Occasions leading to such Actions or Events, when he knows that his Creatures being put into such a State, and then left to their own free Will, will assuredly act after such a Manner; he does by Consequence will or decree such Actions or Events, as they, not he, are the immediate Efficients and formal Causes of. I say, he that wills to do that on which he certainly knows such an Event will follow, does by Consequence will that Event, tho’ he himself neither does the Thing, nor is properly the Cause of another’s doing it; and tho’ the Agent by whom such an Agent is done, or such an Effect produced, be at perfect Liberty whether he will do so or not. In this Case the Event will assuredly happen, or the Effect be produced, as if the Agent acting had no Liberty; because God has determined to do, and actually does, that which he knows will be an Occasion (not Cause) of that Agent’s so acting.

The certain Futurition of any Events thus necessarily, or rather certainly, consequent on God’s permissive Decree, relating to them, does not at all infer a Want of Power or Liberty in the Agents immediately concerned in them, of not acting as they do. If God decrees to do that, on which he knows such an Event will follow, that is. That his Creature having Power so to act, will of its own Accord do so, the Consequence of this is not, that his Creature has not Power to do otherwise. I think this is as plain as any Thing can be. How should God’s Decree to suffer a free Agent to act after such a Manner, infer that Agent’s not having Power to forbear so acting?      Experience Mayhew, Grace Defended in a Most Plea For an Important Truth; Namely, That the offer of Salvation made to Sinners in the Gospel comprises in it an Offer of the Grace given in Regeneration (Boston: Printed by B. Green, and Company, for D. Henchman, in Cornhil, 1744), 187-189. [Some spelling modernized; underlining mine.] 158-159

2) As God neither will, nor ever designed to torment Men in another Life, save for their Sins, whereby they well deserve the fame; so he never is, nor intended to be, the Cause of those Sins for which he resolved to punish those who he ever knew would deserve it. If God should himself cause Men to commit Sin, it would not stand with his Justice to punish them for it. But no Man can prove, that God was ever the Author of any Sin. To affirm he ever was, is to blaspheme his holy Name. If any have let fall Expressions implying that God is the Author of Sin, they have certainly erred therein: And they who accuse Men with this (as I think, is frequent) when they are not guilty of it,, are guilty of grievously wronging them.

They who affirm. That God has from Eternity decreed to permit those Sins to be committed, which he certainly knew would be committed, if he prevented them not, and that he accordingly does permit them, do not hereby make him the Author of Sin. God’s suffering his Creatures to Sin, when it is in his Power to hinder them, is not to be the Author of Sin. Nor is God in Justice obliged to exert his Power in hindering Persons from sinning, tho’ he knows they will Sin if he does not, and that their Sinning will bring Ruin on them.

But if God should lay any of the Children of Men under an absolute and fatal Necessity of finning against him, and then punish them for the Sins they commit, (which I suppose he never does) this would be what I cannot fee the Equity of: But that Men do, by their own Voluntary Rebellion, bring such a Necessity on themselves, I deny not; and then they may justly suffer for the Sins they commit, or rather for their Crime in bringing themselves into such a bad Condition.

God does not, by his eternal Decree, that he Will punish these or those Persons in another Life and World, nor in the Execution of this Decree of his, lay such Persons under a Necessity of finning against. him; tho’ in this his Permission of Sin is implied his willing the Being of Sin by his Permission: But this permissive Will of God must not be understood of his Will, as he is Lawgiver by which he will what should be done, and what should not; but of his Will concerning Events by which he wills what Things shall come to pass, and what shall not, either by his effective Providence, or at least by his suffering them to be done.      Experience Mayhew, Grace Defended in a Most Plea For an Important Truth; Namely, That the offer of Salvation made to Sinners in the Gospel comprises in it an Offer of the Grace given in Regeneration (Boston: Printed by B. Green, and Company, for D. Henchman, in Cornhil, 1744), 162-163. [Some spelling modernized; underlining mine.]

3) Thirdly, There is one Point more, which is very essential to the Scheme which I have endeavored to explain and confirm; which being allowed, and clearly asserted among us, would have a great Tendency to gain over to us such as lean towards Arminianism; and make them more favorably inclined towards our Doctrine: And this is. That God does not either by his Decree, or the Execution of it, lay a Necessity on any of his Creatures to sin against him. This is one of the Things, about which the Arminians contend very earnestly with Calvinists with Relation to our Doctrine: And tho’ much of what they lay on this Head, is, if I mistake not, very unjust; yet on the other Hand, I am of Opinion that some Calvinists have said Things with Respect to God’s Decree, which have given too much Occasion of Offence to those who differ in Judgment from them. If it were granted on our Part, (i) That God does neither in his Decree, nor in the Execution of it, take away the Liberty of free Agents, such as Men and Angels are. (2) That when it is said, that God wills or decrees the Actions of sinful Men, this must not be understood of an effective Decree, but permissive only: The Nature of divine Permission being rightly understood. (3) That by that efficiency of God, whereby he executes his Decree, he does not by any Action of his, lay his Creatures under a Necessity of doing Actions wherein they sin against him; The Concourse of the first Cause with the second, does not infer this. If these Things were well asserted and explained, it would, I think, tend much to quiet the Minds of such as are apt to be stumbled at the Doctrine of Calvinists about them.

What I have briefly said of such a Tendency, in this Essay, is not only designed as a Testimony to the Truth; but as what I hope, if allowed to be agreeable thereunto, might in some Measure serve to quiet the tumultuating Thoughts of those who have entertained such an Opinion of the Doctrine of God’s Decree and Providence, as does not become the infinite Perfections of his Nature ; and who are displeased at such as maintain the Truth in these Points.      Experience Mayhew, Grace Defended in a Most Plea For an Important Truth; Namely, That the offer of Salvation made to Sinners in the Gospel comprises in it an Offer of the Grace given in Regeneration (Boston: Printed by B. Green, and Company, for D. Henchman, in Cornhil, 1744), 198-199. [Some spelling modernized; underlining mine.]

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