August 1, 2015
Continuing to ponder the idea that God appointed some to everlasting life and others to a different fate. Is this really a genuinely Anglican idea, as my previous posts about the dark side of predestination and the way not to apply reprobation have asserted?
The first commentary on the Thirty-nine Articles by Thomas Rogers seems to indicate so. In The English Creed (1585), page 60, he writes (with Yoda-like grammar), "Err therefore doe they which stand in opinion that some are appointed to be saved, yet none to be damned." His later A Treatise upon sundry matters contained in the Thirty-nine Articles (1658), page 65, adds a condemnation of those who say "no certain company be foredestined unto eternal condemnation."
He was not alone in holding this view of course. In reply to an attack by a Portuguese Roman Catholic named Osorious on the English creed (i.e. the Articles), the famous John Fox and a certain Mr Haddon, wrote this:
For whereas that most sacred purpose of the divine predestination and reprobation doth issue and spring from out the only will of God, being indeed most unsearchable, yet most righteous; and whereas, also, men are first fashioned in the same will, as in God's workshop, to be either vessels of wrath, or vessels of mercy, before that any lenity or mercy do appear to be extended towards any of them from God; by what means then will Osorius affirm that the defence of justice consisteth wholly in mercy, and that there be no vessels of wrath, but such as will not be vessels of mercy? I do answer that this is true that no man perisheth at all, but whoso perisheth by his own procurement and default," nevertheless, "as he is a judge he doth punish sinners indeed; but as he is a creator he doth fashion his creatures according to his will, even as the potter doth fashion his pots." Haddon & Fox Against Osorius. (originally, 1563). (See Thomas R. Jones, An Exposition of the Thirty-nine Articles by the Reformers (1849), page 105.)
Haddon and Fox oppose the view that there are only "vessels of mercy" and those who themselves decide not to be. They oppose that by saying that predestination and reprobation can both be traced back to God's will. God's will, not their own, makes people vessels of mercy or vessels of wrath. It is true, they affirm, that all who perish do so because of their sin, in a sense. But in an ultimate sense, God fashions things as he wills.
There was a dispute in Cambridge about these issues in the 1590s. There were virulent sermons against Calvin, Beza, Vermigli, and Zanchius, and especially their doctrines of election. In response, the co-called Lambeth Articles were drawn up by the Regius Professor of Divinity at Cambridge and endorsed by both archbishops, and others, in 1595. They clarified that Anglican doctrine was Reformed and, more specifically, that, "1. God from eternity has predestined some men to life, and reprobated some to death." Note the subject of that sentence. They added that, "4. Those not predestined to salvation are inevitably condemned on account of their sins." God predestines and reprobates, the latter on account of sin, the former on account of grace alone.
The Anglican worthies who were sent by King James I to attend the Synod of Dort in 1618 were far from severe or hyper-calvinists, as my previous interlocutor Dr Jensen will no doubt admit (their minority opinion on the matter of "limited atonement" being of particular interest to some of our mutual friends in Sydney). They did however pronounce it an erroneous opinion that predestination to life was "the whole and entire decree of predestination." The fact that some are severed from others by the decree is a key part of it according to scripture, they said.
On reprobation, the British divines at Dort -- who clearly were unafraid to disagree with a majority view, if they felt scripture or their confession called them to -- declared that "non-election, we avow to be grounded upon the most free will of God." They cite Romans 9 and John 10:26 ("you do not believe because you are not my sheep"). All lie in sin and are equally undeserving. God decides to save some, and decides not to save others. They are damned and predestinated to damnation in consideration of their sin. Reprobation is the negation of election and sets down "the immutable will of God, by which he hath decreed not to take pity of that person, whom he passeth by, so farre forth as to bestow upon him eternall life." As they conclude, "The Apostle fetcheth this preterition, or non-election, from the mere will of God." (See Anthony Milton (ed.), The British Delegation and the Synod of Dort, pages 230, 238-239, 241, 242-243.)
So nothing that I have affirmed about "the sentence of God's predestination" against the reprobate is un-Anglican. It is embedded in the first generations of Reformation Anglican writing on the subject, as well as being part of an international Reformed consensus at that formative time.
I know there are subtle distinctions at play in the way some people talk about this subject. And perhaps I am too much of a dullard and a historian to really understand the philosophical elegancies of systematics. But as the great Anglican scholar J.B. Mozley puts it in his Treatise on the Augustinian doctrine of Predestination (1883), page 392, "There is no real distinction between abandoning men to a certain state, of which punishment will be the consequence, and ordaining them to that punishment."
As he goes on, on the next page, "I see no substantial difference between the Augustinian and Thomist, and the Calvinist doctrine of predestination. S. Augustine and Calvin alike hold an eternal Divine decree, which, antecedently to all action, separates one portion of mankind from another, and ordains one to everlasting life and the other to everlasting punishment."
I confess that I find that intellectually satisfying and historically compelling, as well as most in accordance with scripture as I currently understand it. I also think it is authentically Anglican and thoroughly evangelical, and while I fully understand some may not like it and want to disagree, I can't see that it should be dismissed with irrelevant epithets such as "overly neat" or "unfeelingly dogmatic."
Lee Gatiss is Director of Church Society, adjunct lecturer at Wales Evangelical School of Theology, and Research Fellow of the Jonathan Edwards Centre Africa at the University of the Free State, South Africa