In “The Softer Face of Calvinism” (Christianity Today), it is argued that rather than appealing to theologians to understand Reformed theology, one should use the Reformed confessions and creeds.
The confessions, therefore, form an important framework that help us see both what is fundamental and what is not fundamental.
Following that advice, chapter three of the Westminster Confession makes two assertions:
- God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass …
- Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass upon all supposed conditions; yet has He not decreed anything because He foresaw it as future, or as that which would come to pass upon such condition
In a nutshell, God decreed (ordained, predestined) everything in eternity past. And His decrees were not based on His foreknowledge of the actions of those whom He would create.
The theologian Daniel Whedon (1808-1885) is probably best known (if he is known at all) as the author of The Freedom of the Will. Challenging Jonathan Edwards own work bearing the same title, Whedon set out to defend the the ability of a person to choose otherwise.
First he defines predestination in a way that aligns with what the Westminster Confession asserts.
In a true predestination the totality and the individual events, not foreknown previous to predestination, but predestinated in order to be foreknown, are originated and stereotyped, not by the aggregate of free agents, but by the Predestinating Volition primordially causing the efficient finite causes to cause, and the effects to exist.
Summarizing this, Whedon says that the predestination of events precedes foreknowledge. And that foreknowledge is not based on the actions of free agents but on the act of predestination.
Decree → Foreknowledge → Future Actions
If one affirms the Westminster Confession, I don’t imagine there is much to disagree with here.
In his work (p276-277), Whedon lists three necessary characteristics that the Divine Volition that issues such decrees (as defined in the manner above) must possess:
- Original Conception of the Event
- Exclusion of anything that can prevent the Event
- Insurance that the Event as decreed will occur
Origination of the Event
The event must of course have its first conception in the divine mind, and be fixed upon by the divine Will, and that must be the first intentional cause of its existence; …
Because the decrees precede everything (including foreknowledge) and do not depend on anything except what God wills then all events must first originate in the mind of God. Yet, Scriptures tell us:
They have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, and it did not come into My mind. – Jeremiah 7:31 (also 19:5; 32:35)
Exclusion of anything that can prevent the Event
Next, the divine Will as cause must pledge itself, and efficiently secure that no adequate contradictory prevents the identical event ; by which all counter cause or contrary choice is rendered impossible.
Millard Erickson, in Christian Theology, writes (p 388) that “by his permitting … and by his not preventing the sin God in effect wills the sin”. But here Whedon challenges this idea. God does not just “permit” and “not prevent” sin or any other future event. He must originate the idea (see above) and also remove anything (including contrary choice) that might prevent the decreed event from occurring. If He does not do this then there is nothing to insure that the decreed future event will not be prevented.
Insurance that the Event as decreed will occur
And, third, as cause the divine Will is pledged to secure positively that the identical event in the identical way come into existence, so that the actual future is solely possible, is necessary, and must be. Less than this predestination cannot be.
Scripture clearly tells us that God has perfect foreknowledge (Isaiah 41:22-23; 42:9; 46:9). It does not tell us on what that foreknowledge is based.
If that foreknowledge is dependent on the future actions of people then it can rightly be said that God is permitting/not preventing the future action to occur. In this scenario He does not need to insure that the foreknown action occurs.
Foreknowledge ← Future Actions
However, if His foreknowledge is not based on “seeing” actions in advance but is dependent on what He has decreed then God must insure, in some manner, that the decreed event actually does occur. Furthermore, this insurance must do more than just “permit” and “not prevent”, otherwise there would be no basis for being certain the decreed event would occur.
Implications of these characteristics
Clearly if all events are decreed first and these decrees are the basis for what will be foreknown then these three characteristics listed by Daniel Whedon are logically required.
The implications of these characteristics are clear:
And through whatever secondary causes or agents the events be effectuated, one thing is self-evident, that the divine Will is perfectly and intentionally its responsible author. The first cause is responsible cause for the last effect.
Examining the claims of the Westminster Confession critically it is logical to infer that God is responsible for sin. Sound reasoning also leads to the conclusion that this doctrine takes away the freedom of people to make contingent choices.
When writing we must distinguish carefully what is taught from what is logically inferred. Those who hold to the Westminster Confession do not draw these conclusions. However, they do seem to understand that this are logical conclusions, because the confession makes it a point to explicitly reject them.