De Moor VI:6: The Eternity of the Divine Decrees

To the divine Decrees we attribute absolute Eternity, whereby they are no less eternal than God Himself. I am aware that the Most Illustrious GOMARUS, opera, part III, Disputationum Theologicarum IX, de Æterno Dei Decreto, under this name cited by Limborch[1] and Röellius,[2] observed some distinction, both between God Himself and His Decree, § 28-30 (which concerning our formal conception is altogether certain); and between the Eternity of God Himself, which he calls Absolutely Necessary, and of the Decree, which he calls merely Arbitrary and ἀναλόγως/analogously so called, and which is in such a way that it able not to be, § 31. But thus GOMARUS only maintained this, that it was no natural Perfection of God, but a mere Choice of His Will, by no natural Perfections determined to either of the options, from which the Decree concerning things outside of God, future or not future, might flow; since from such a Choice the Existence or Attributes of God Himself are not able to be retraced. But this rather has regard to the Liberty of the Decrees thereafter to be asserted, but does not so much pertain to the concept of Eternity. However, GOMARUS did not thus dream that there was a time when God had not yet decreed: contrariwise, he acknowledged that the Decree of God was truly Eternal and without all beginning; since in the Disputation cited he defined the Decree as an Act of God, Internal and Eternal, § 12; and he added that this is said to be Eternal, because the Duration of that is Infinite, or free from either terminus (that is, beginning and end) and succession, § 13. And this is what only we maintain, when we say that the Decrees of God are Absolutely Eternal, that not only is this Act of the divine Will without succession and duration, but that also it has no beginning of Duration: so that we acknowledge that this Arbitrary Determination of the Divine Will was made from all Eternity, without any or the least anterior duration left, and without the prior Existence of God Himself posited.

This thesis is proven:

α. From the real/actual Identity of the Decrees with God Himself, asserted in § 5 from God’s Simplicity, which does not allow any Internal and Immanent Acts of Intellect and Will in God to be really/actually distinct from the very Essence of God. With which posited, by the denial of the Absolute Eternity of the Decrees, whereby they are Co-eternal with God, various Perfections of the Essence of God must necessarily be destroyed. 1. Thus the Simplicity of God falls, which, excluding all real/actual Composition from God, also keeps from God all transition from potency to Act, or the reception of any new Perfection. But that Simplicity is removed; if in God there clearly is Eternal Essence indeed, and Intellect and Will, but the internal Acts of the Essence and of the Intellect and Will are not eternal, but are begun in some moment, even if a most ancient moment and before the foundation of the World. For thus what is Eternal in God is one thing, and what is not Eternal is another, which two must really/actually differ. 2. Thus Consummate Perfection of God is removed. That is, the Decree of God, or the determination of His will unto the execution and ends, and also the actual Knowledge, of those things that are going to be by the Decree, is an exceedingly great Reality and Perfection. You will not acknowledge Him as altogether Perfect, if you should make either of those posterior to God Himself, either by a single moment of duration; or at that moment, when He did not yet have all Perfection; or even ever after, because at some point He had not that Perfection, which is a lesser thing, than to have always had the same. 3. The Immutability of God is destroyed, and, on the other hand, the great Mutation in God would have to be acknowledged, if from one not decreeing at some point, even before the Creation of the World, He become one decreeing, and from one not knowing Future Things He become one Knowing; as, by the denial of the Eternity of His Decrees and Foreknowledge, He is certainly established as such a one. 4. Finally, God’s Eternity itself falls, which, being without Succession, no less than beginning and end, admits nothing of the prior and posterior in Him. Which sort of prior and posterior is nevertheless posited in God, if the Decree and Prescience ever be denied to God, or be placed after the Essence of God by Duration. Just as the true Eternity of the Decrees is also destroyed, since that is not eternal, than which anything is prior in duration. Indeed, Eternity is infinite Duration. That is Infinite, than which a greater is not able to be posited. This rejects parts, greater and less. Hence a distinction between Absolute and Restricted Eternity is not able to be admitted, unless you wish to speak a contradiction in the adjective; since Restricted Eternity means basically the same thing as finite Infinity: compare HEINRICH ALTING, Problematica Theologia nova, locus IV, problem V, page 250.

β. Scripture confirms this Eternity of the Decrees, attributing to God Eternal Prescience of all future things: for divine Prescience of future things is from the Decree, through which they pass from a state of possibility to a state of futurity. But γνωστὰ ἀπ᾽ αἰῶνός ἐστι τῷ Θεῷ πάντα τὰ ἔργα αὐτοῦ, known to God are all His works from of old, Acts 15:18, where James from the one extraordinary work of the Calling of the Gentiles proceeds to all His works, or confirms what has been said concerning the one by this general truth, asserting that all God’s works, both the things produced and the operations together, with nothing excepted, were known to Him, with perfect completeness, with the utmost certainty and of themselves, in consideration of His Sufficiency and constituting Decree, since the altogether Perfect Spirit is only able to work by His own Counsel: even indeed ἀπ᾽ αἰῶνός, from of old, in Hebrew מֵעוֹלָם, from of old;[3] which terms, used of the Duration of existence, denote a generation or age; just as it, being absolutely posited here, leads us to the beginning of the World, when the temporal ages began to pass by; and since the Works were already at that time known to God, we are thus manifestly led to Eternity: or ἀπό/from is put in the place of πρὸ/before, as ἀπό and πρὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου are used interchangeably in Matthew 25:34[4] and Ephesians 1:4;[5] in which manner similarly the Eternity of divine Prescience will also be signified, in comparison with Psalm 90:2.[6] Or αἰών, as it is taken by the DUTCH TRANSLATORS, will be Eternity itself, and, as it often excludes all end, Mark 3:29;[7] etc., so here it also will exclude in the opposite direction all beginning and succession, just as everywhere predicates are to be evaluated according to their subjects, and in turn the subjects according to their predicates: but here it is treated of the internal knowledge of the αἰωνίου/eternal God Himself, as He is called in Romans 16:26,[8] who Himself also, to indicate His Eternity, is said to have been מֵעוֹלָם, from everlasting, Psalm 90:2.

Johannes Hoornbeeck

γ. Examples of Eternal Decrees are added, for example, Election, the Foreordination of Christ, the Counsel concerning the manifestation of the Gospel; Ephesians 1:4, πρὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου, before the foundation of the world: not before the casting of the foundations of the world, with respect to an edifice, for which foundations are wont to be contrived beforehand; but before the casting of the world itself, perhaps with respect to generation and birth, in which the fetus, as if projected out of the womb at once, issues forth into the light, just as even now we make use of this term concerning animals, when we say that they cast, cast down, their young: thus Sara is said λαβεῖν δύναμιν εἰς καταβολὴν σπέρματος, to have received strength for the casting of seed, Hebrews 11:11. Now, the Creation of the World is also compared with Generation, Genesis 2:4: 2 Timothy 2:9; Titus 1:2; compare Chapter VII, § 7; 1 Peter 1:20; 1 Corinthians 2:7; etc. From which Examples a judgment ought to be made concerning the other Decrees of God, 1. on account of the real/actual Unity of all the Decrees in God, since they say that only one is the Act of Will in Him tending ad extra: and, 2. on account of the relation of all things in their own way to Election. Neither is the adverb of time, πρὸ/before, to be Excepted, which is made use of the Passages cited, to indicate a temporal Act; because it is not so much taken positively, as indicating a difference in time, as negatively, as indicating the removal of it.

Compare HOORNBEECK, Socinianismo confutato, tome I, book II, chapter VII, section II, pages 489, 490; HEINRICH ALTING, Problematica Theologia nova, locus IV, problem V, page 249.

That the Socinians here most unhappily divide a few General Decrees, namely, these Three, concerning the creating and governing of the World, the sending and offering of Christ, and the promising and applying of Salvation to believers, from the remaining Particular ones, establishing the former as Eternal, but either altogether denying the latter, or contriving them as completely Temporal, made at diverse Points in time after the creation of the world; their account of the various outcomes presented, even as of things themselves, appeared to have demanded: see Crellius, de Deo ejusque Attributis, chapter XXXII, opera, tome 4, page 113.

That is, they undertake to dispute the Decree as eternal and free, to dispute the Determination of all things by the Divine Will with the Liberty and Contingency of man and things. Their Scope/Goal is the more easily to prove that the Decrees really/actually differ from God, etc.

Vorstius, in Exegese Apologetica, chapter XV, and in Notis on Disputation III de Deo, page 207, also contends, that the Decrees of God are not simply and absolutely eternal, that is, altogether without all origin and beginning, as God Himself is, and so co-eternal with God; although he acknowledges that the same were made before the ages of time, or before the creation of the world, by the free choice of God: see TRIGLAND’S Kerckelycke Geschiedenissen, volume 4, pages 577, 586.

Pierre Chauvin,[9] discoursing concerning the Permission of Sin, also speaks of a particular Temporal Decree of punishing this or that man on account of sins committed, set over against the general eternal Decree of punishing the sinner, de Religione Naturali, part I, chapter XVI, pages 190, 191: “We respond that God made a Decree generally, that, if anyone commits sin, he will suffer punishment. The matter, which was then marked out in Sacred Scripture, corresponds to the divine Decree; all things agree among themselves, the Eternal Decree with the old and new Covenant. But man afterwards refuses his duty and sins; at that point, indeed, a Decree follows, which is agreeable to the aforementioned general Decree; that that transgressor, with a certain measure of sins fulfilled, might be punished according to the strict and ancient Law of God. So that that posterior Decree certainly appears to us to be Temporal, not Eternal, yet reinforcing the Eternal, and sealing it.”

Objection 1: God, as the Cause of the Decree, is prior. Responses: α. It is hardly apt to conceive of God as the Cause of the Decree; Theologians prefer to call Him the Principium of the Decree, which term is looser than Cause: just as, for example, the point of a line is able to be called its principium, but not its Cause. β. A Cause is not always, not even in the Creatures themselves, prior to its Effect with respect to Time; but often effects are coeval with their causes, when from them they proceed by emanation, like the light of the Sun, or the act of understanding in the intellect of Angels and of man newly created. Thus, even if God be said to be the Cause of the Decree, it does not then follow that the Decree is not able to be Co-eternal with God. γ. Only then would it follow that the Decrees of God are not Eternal, if God preceded the same in priority of Duration: but now God precedes the Decrees only in priority of Order as their Principium, in our manner of conception.

Objection 2: A Decree implies previous Deliberation, which is to be conceived of as prior in duration to the Decree itself. Response: It is indeed so among men, that there is to be long Deliberation concerning that which is once to be established. But hence it also happens that, while the Romans deliberate, Saguntus perishes;[10] prolix deliberations of this sort among men are nothing other than marks of manifest imperfection. But God, being infinitely Perfect and Wise, is not to be reduced unto human straits of this sort. EPIPHANIUS, adversus Hæreses, Heresy LXIX, § 26, opera, tome I, page 751: Ἐν Θεῷ δὲ οὐ χρόνος εἰς βουλὴν, οὐ βούλησις εἰς διανόησιν. —φύσις γὰρ αὐτῷ ἐστι θεότητος, οὔτε βουλῆς ἐπιδεομένη, οὔτε ἄνευ βουλῆς τι πράττουσα, ἀλλ᾽ ἅμα ἐξ αὐτῆς τὰ πάντα ἔχουσα, καὶ οὐδὲν λείπουσα τῶν ὄντων, but in God there is neither time unto will, nor willing unto thinking…. For to Him belongs the nature of the Godhead, which neither needs a will, not does anything without will, but of itself possesses all things at once, and wants nothing.

Objection 3: In Scripture God is often set forth as deliberating in time, Genesis 1:26; 6:6, 7; etc. But our AUTHOR rightly Responds that these are Anthropopathic Expressions, whereby is noted either the revelation or declaration of the Eternal Counsel of God, or the fit execution of the same.

Objection 4: Order among the Decrees themselves overthrows the Eternity of the same. Response: α. Not in God does this Order have its place, according to which some Decrees are said to be prior, others posterior, while in God they are a single and altogether simple Act of the Will. β. But rather, a. in our Manner of conception, since, because of the multiplicity of distinct Objects, we are not able to conceive of the Decrees except distinctly through prior and posterior. b. And in the mutual Relation of the Thing decreed, which in execution have their Order, and some are prior or posterior to others.

Objection 5: The Eternity of the Decrees would take away God’s Liberty in decreeing: and hence RÖELLIUS and some of his disciples, in order to protect the Liberty of the divine Decree and destroy Spinozism,[11] appear to have conceived of the matter in this way; namely, that the Decrees are indeed anterior to the occurrence of matters and the very Creation of the Word, and hence Eternal comparatively; but they are not able to be thought of as Indifferently Free, as it is fitting, unless at some time they were not made or selected: so that in this way true Eternity, excluding all beginning of duration, is removed from the Decree, and remains proper to God Himself with His Attributes. This opinion of Röellius was marked as dangerous by the Synod of Gouda[12] in 1701: see Judicium Ecclesiasticum laudatum, chapter I, § 6, chapter 5, § 2. In this conception, before Röellius was POIRET,[13] who in his Cogitationibus Rationalibus, book III, chapter XVI, § 7, pages 436, 437, has: “When the act whereby things are devised, decided, decreed, is said to be eternal, is it to be thought then to be signified that it is involved in the Eternity of God, emanates from it, is so tied to it that, if that act be denied, that Eternity is also denied; neither would the Essence of God be eternal, unless God thus acted, devised, willed, those things that are diverse from Himself? That these things are not so, those things that are said concerning the absolute Dominion of God demonstrate. The act of God, altogether free, altogether indifferent, from which God was able to abstain, does not have a necessary tie with the essence of the Eternity of the Divine Nature; neither, except in another sense, is it able to be called eternal, namely, insofar as matters were not yet, and yet were conceived by God in act; or insofar as it was not conceived in God by way of succession and flow corresponding to time, but by another way that God alone knows, and which is certainly not of the Nature of His Eternity, albeit it befits Him, whose Nature is eternal. All things return to this. Only God’s Essence is eternal. The Act or good pleasure of God, or His determination, or devising of things (and, if you will, of the essence of things), is freely, not necessarily, in Him, before all time, not with succession, as if some things had preceded in God, but others followed. Finally, the Works of God are in time, etc.” But,

Response: α. So many other divine Perfections are not to be overthrown in order to avoid Spinozism, and we appear to have destroyed more by denying the Decrees as Co-eternal with God. Rather, the Eternity of the Decrees, and their Liberty, are to be firmly held, both which are taught by Scripture and Reason, even if we are not able so easily to reconcile them according to the limitation of our understanding.

β. But that reconciliation is not so difficult. For the Liberty of Indifference in God does not require that at some point there was some longer or shorter moment, even in our conception, which preceded His Decree and Prescience, and in which that was able to be taken otherwise by God, than it is now taken, as the case is in the Indifferent Decrees of Creatures: but it is sufficient for that Liberty of God, that the fixed determination of His Decree and Prescience has, or is conceived by us to have, no necessary and infallible tie with God’s Essense and any Essential Perfection; but that this is equally able to consist with the opposite Decree. For, in this case God is said, not indeed to have been at any point Indifferent to this or that thing to be determined, which is not able to be said without error: but even still, with His altogether Free Decree set aside, to be Indifferent in and of Himself and His Essence concerning Contingent matters determined by God’s altogether Free Decree for futurition, since the Divine Essence and Perfection is always the same. But which Will, with its conjoined Knowledge, is not here determined either way by the divine Essence or some Essential Perfection, but by His own, altogether Independent, and most wise Will; that was thus able to be determined from eternity, just as much as in some prior or posterior moment of successive Duration.

γ. Indeed, since God at the same time with Existence necessarily knows and wills certain things, namely, His own Essence with His Essential Perfections; and we judge that He both knew and decreed all other things at the same time in the same eternal Act of understanding and willing: it is fitting that we not multiply successively Acts of understanding and willing, as if after the manner of men God was not able to know and to will all things at the same time.

This is not mere Logomachy, inasmuch as the preceding Objection actually impugns the Co-existence of the Decrees with God with respect to Duration: compare our AUTHOR’S Exercitation XLIII, Part IV, Exercitationibus Textualibus; SPANHEIM, DecadumTheologicarum VI, § 6, 8, opera, tome 3, columns 1230-1232; CORNELIUS VAN VELZEN,[14]Disputatione de absoluta Decreti cum Deo Coæternitate, held in 1718; JACOBUS FRUYTIER,[15]Zions Worstelingen, Dialogue 3, pages 720-754.

Against the brawlings of CREMER,[16] the true Eternity of the divine Decrees is also solidly vindicated by WESSELIUS, Nestorianismo et Adoptianismo redivivo confutato, chapters XVII, XVIII, § 200-230; likewise by JAN VAN DEN HONERT,[17] Præfatione ante Ursinum in Catechesin, part II, chapter I, pages 57-76. For the absolute Co-eternity of the Decrees with God, also carefully review Examen van het Ontwerp van Tolerantie, part 6, pages 207-248.

Crellius’ twofold Objection against the Eternity of the Decrees, 1. that nothing has been decreed by God from eternity, except those that have excellence above the rest, whether persons or things; 2. that sometimes the Decrees of God stand in mutual opposition to each other, and annul each other: HOORNBEECK resolves, Socinianismo confutato, tome I, book II, chapter VII, section III, pages 514, 515.

The Eternity of the Decrees also extends into the future, although the Effect after its Execution is not going to be any longer, or that it might be regarded as future. That is, the decreed event ceases to be in the becoming, since it has now happened; but the Decree itself does not cease therefore, since that divine Act of the Will is immutable: see HEINRICH ALTING, Problematica Theologia nova, locus IV, problem V, page 250.

[1] Philip van Limborch (1633-1712) was a Dutch Remonstrant pastor and theologian, and Professor of Theology at Amsterdam (1667-1712). [2] Hermann Alexander Röell (1653-1718) was a Dutch Reformed philosopher and theologian. He served as Professor of Philosophy and Theology at Franeker (1685-1704), and as Professor of Natural Theology at Utrecht (1704-1718). [3] For example, Psalm 25:6: “Remember, O Lord, thy tender mercies and thy lovingkindnesses; for they have been ever of old (מֵעוֹלָם).” [4] Matthew 25:34: “Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world (ἀπὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου)…” [5] Ephesians 1:4: “According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world (πρὸ καταβολῆς κόσμου), that we should be holy and without blame before him in love…” [6] Psalm 90:2: “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlastingוּֽמֵעוֹלָ֥ם) עַד־ע֜וֹלָ֗ם; καὶ ἀπὸ τοῦ αἰῶνος ἕως τοῦ αἰῶνος, in the Septuagint), thou art God.” [7] Mark 3:29: “But he that shall blaspheme against the Holy Ghost hath never forgiveness, but is in danger of eternal damnation (αἰωνίου κρίσεως)…” [8] Romans 16:26: “But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God (τοῦ αἰωνίου Θεοῦ), made known to all nations for the obedience of faith…” [9] Pierre Chauvin (flourished 1685) was a Reformed Theologian. [10] Saguntus was a town in Hispania. Hannibal’s overthrow of it led to the Second Punic War. [11] Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) was a Jewish-Dutch philosopher, and one of the great Rationalists in the tradition of Descartes. His philosophy is deterministic. [12] Gouda is in the Province of South Holland. [13] Pierre Poiret (1646-1719) was a French mystic, and disciple of Antoinette Bourignon, publishing her works (as well as those of other mystics, ancient and modern). [14] Cornelius van Velzen (1696-1752) was a Dutch Reformed Theologian; he served as Professor of Theology at Groningen (1731-1752). [15] Jacobus Fruytier (1659-1731) was a Dutch Reformed pastor and theologian. [16] Bernard Sebastian Cremer (1683-1750) was a Reformed theologian. He served as Professor of Theology at Harderwijk (1717-1750). [17] Jan van den Honert (1693-1758) was a Dutch Reformed theologian. He served as Professor of Theology at Utrecht (1727-1734), and later at Leiden (1734-1758).

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