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Wendelin's "Christian Theology": Doctrine of Reprobation

THESIS I: Hitherto concerning election. Reprobation follows, which is the predestination of certain men to eternal death, to be inflicted because of sin, for the revelation of divine justice.

EXPLANATION: Calvin calls the decree of reprobation awful; because τῶν φοβερῶν φοβερώτατον, the most frightful of frightful things, that is, eternal death, does God determine for some sinners, by His most just judgment. The Lutherans have this awful decree perpetually in their mouths, and by calumny interpret awful as cruel: which never comes into Calvin’s mind. If they would search their own bosoms, they would find similar and harsher things. And indeed, in the first place are recoreded those of Brentius on John 17: That Christ does not pray for the world, but only for elect believers, is dreadful to hear. For because of this the world daily rushes to extreme outrages, to death, etc. Eber,[1] in his treatise de cœna, page 113, calls the commandment of GOD concerning the slaying of Isaac terrible. But Brentius rises higher; in his homilies sub incursionem Turcarum, published in Wittenberg in 1533, he writes, that in the flood God exercised, not so much severity, as savage cruelty. Similarly, that the impious are not able to be brought with words to the point that they believe God’s tyranny and cruelty against sinners to be such as it is preached. Luther led the way, who in Tome 5, page 157, says, that God is not able to be God, but that He must first be a Devil. The same argues a God of unrighteousness in his book de Servo Artibrio; see Exercitations 1, § 8; 24, § 1; 31, § 15. If Calvin had written these things, unto what corner of hell would he not be banished?

THESIS II: The causes and adjuncts of reprobation are to be considered.

THESIS III: The principal efficient of reprobation is God.

EXPLANATION: I. That the reprobation of certain men is by GOD, this is in a manner proven.

(1.) God in time condemns certain ones: which is most clearly testified to in Sacred Scripture.

Therefore, God decree from eternity to condemn: and hence He reprobated.

(2.) God hath made the wicked for the day of evil, that is, as the Papists also interpret it, of the final judgment: Proverbs 16:4.

Therefore, He Himself is the cause of reprobation.

(3.) Paul compare God with a potter, making one vessel for honor, and another for dishonor, Romans 9:21.

Therefore, he attributes the reprobation of certain men to God.

(4.) From eternity God loved some men, hated others, decreed to have mercy on some, and to harden others: as Paul proves by the example of Jacob and Esau, Romans 9:13-18.

(5.) God decreed to blind the eyes of some, to harden their hearts, lest they see with their eyes, and understand with their hearts, and be converted and healed, John 12:39, 40. Therefore, He destined some for damnation: if indeed all that are not ever converted and healed are condemned.

(6.) If God predestined no one to damnation; either no one is damned; or some are condemned by chance; or they are condemned by a new and extemporary will of God. But the consequent is clearly false and absurd: see Exercitation 16.

II. Against the contrary opinion exception is taken by some Papists, and by others.

(1.) God is consummately merciful.

Therefore, in election He passes over no one, and destines no one to destruction.

Response: I deny the consequence. The rationale for the denial is: That God is not only consummately merciful, but also consummately just. Therefore, He does not make use of His consummate mercy towards all, but towards those only upon whom He wills to have mercy: the rest He justly hardens, and condemns because of their sins, Romans 9:18.

(2.) God wills nothing contrary to His goodness.

But the damnation of some men is contrary to the divine goodness.

Therefore, God does not will the damnation of any.

The minor is proven: (1.) Because it is contrary to the goodness of angels and men to will any to be condemned. (2.) Because all things are created unto certain perfection, in which they are well. (3.) Because man wishes salvation and good to man begotten of himself: how much more does God to the man created by Himself.

Response: I deny the minor. I respond to the proofs in order:

To (1.), it is False: Angels and men, with their goodness presenting no obstacle, are able to will one to be condemned, who in the just judgment of God is sentenced to damnation. Hence so many imprecations occur in the Psalms.

To (2.), it is Inconsequent: because one’s perfection, in which individual things in any way are well, does not remove the judgment of God concerning evils.

To (3.), it is Inconsequent. For, God and man are not bound by the same law. Man is bound to desire good to man, to the extent he knows the wish not to be contrary to the divine law. God, with no law hindering, wills all things because of Himself: and so He also wills ill to the wicked, because of Himself, that is, the glory of His justice.

THESIS IV: The impulsive cause, or rather, the reason, of reprobation is sin; if concerning the cause of reprobation it be asked absolutely: but if respectively and comparatively, it is only God’s εὐδοκία, good pleasure.

EXPLANATION: I. To ask absolutely concerning the impulsive cause, or reason, of reprobation, is to ask, why did God from eternity decree to damn some men? To this question it is answered: that God decreed to damn some men because of sin, to which they were liable in His sight: and that to magnify His justice. At the same time, sin alone is not the whole cause or reason of reprobation: But the will of GOD is added: without which it would have been that no one was reprobated because of sin: seeing that, with sin not opposing, God would have been able to decree life for all men, with His righteousness intact, which He had been able to satisfy most fully through His Son.

To ask relatively and comparatively concerning the same cause, is to ask, why did God decree to damn these because of sin, rather than those? At this point no other cause is able to be alleged, except God’s εὐδοκία, or good pleasure. Sin is not able to be alleged, because, considered in themselves, all men are equal sharers with respect to sin.

II. Hence it is evident, that in a certain respect the decree of reprobation is absolute and in another respect not absolute. It is Absolute, if concerning the cause of reprobation inquiry is made comparatively: because beyond the Will of God there is no cause. It is not Absolute, if concerning the cause of reprobation inquiry is made absolutely: as we have just now explained.

III. Let a similar example be observed. Let there be many guilty of the same thing and convicted of rebellion, of whom the prince orders only some to be beaten, with impunity granted to the rest. If it now be asked, why does he order some of the many to be beaten? it shall rightly be answered, because they were rebels; for, since the prince is just, he commands no one without fault to be beaten. But, if it be asked, why out of those many does he order these rather than those to be beaten? rebellion shall not be able to be alleged as the cause: for all are equal sharers in the crime of rebellion. In exactly the same way the matter holds in the present business. The absolute reason for reprobation is sin. But it is not the comparative reason: for that in which all are equal sharers is not able to be the cause of the differentiation: see Exercitation 17.

The Papists also approve this our doctrine, and prove is by the same comparison: Becanus’ Theologiæ Scholasticæ, part 1, chapter 16, question 14, notes 13, 14.

Here, the scholastics, and with them other learned men, distinguish, between the negative act of reprobation and the positive or affirmative.

The negative act is called preterition, or the will not to give life.

The positive or affirmative act is called predamnation, or the will to condemn.

The former act, they say, is absolute: the latter, not absolute, but respective of sin, as a necessary antecedent. But in a different respect both acts are able to be called absolute and not absolute: if the question is set up as absolute or comparative. As we have just now shown. No one is more rigid concerning the doctrine of reprobation than Luther: as we have shown, Exercitations 16-18. No one set forth the absolute decree more sharply. Nevertheless, this truth brings forth hatred.

THESIS V: Thus far the efficient of reprobation. The matter or object follows, which is certain men as sinners, or the greatest part of sinful men.

EXPLANATION: I. That the object of reprobation is men, in the sight of God fallen and corrupted through sin, is evident by the manifest testimony of Scripture: for reprobates are called vessels of wrath, fitted to destruction, Romans 9:22. But God is angry with no one, except the sinner: He destines no one to destruction, except the guilty.

II. That the greatest part of mankind is reprobate, or that reprobates are more than the elect, is proven:

(1.) Because the elect are called few, Matthew 20:16. Therefore, the elect are not more than the reprobates.

(2.) Because more are condemned than are saved, Matthew 7:14. Therefore, more have been destined unto damnation than unto salvation.

III. Exception is taken:

(1.) A just judge determines equal things to equals.

But God is a just judge.

Therefore, He determines equal things to equal men: and, by consequence, although He chose some sinners, He did not reprobate the rest, not at all worse.

Response: The major is not true, except concerning a just judge that is obliged by law to determine equal things to equal. If he be without this obligation, with justice preserved, he is able to determine unequal things to equals. But by no law is God bound to determine equal things to equals; and He has a perfectly righteous cause of His own decrees, and may do with His own what He will.

(2.) If the number of reprobates is greater than of the elect, the justice of God will be greater than His mercy. But the consequent is false. Therefore, also the antecedent.

The minor is proven: Because the tender mercies of God are proclaimed to be over all His works, Psalm 145:9.

Response: God’s mercy and justice are considered in themselves and so far as they are in God: or with respect to their effects and objects. With respect to the former consideration, they are equal; and so the consequent of the hypothetical proposition is denied. With respect to the latter, the universal mercy of God, which concerns all men promiscuously, with not even the reprobates excluded, is able to be said to be greater: but special mercy, which concerns salvation in particular, is able to be said to be less. And so it is evident, what the minor has of truth or of falsehood: what the proof demonstrates: what things are to be received concerning universal mercy: see Exercitation 18.

THESIS VI: The end is the revelation of divine justice in the punishment of sin.

EXPLANATION: I. This is evident from the testimonies of Scripture, Romans 9:17, for this very thing have I raised thee up, that I might show my power in thee, and that my name might be declared in all the earth; and verse 22, willing to show His wrath, and to make His power known, He endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction. And so God does not destine reprobates unto sin, since He finds sin in them: but unto the punishment of sin.

II. From these things that we have hitherto said concerning the causes of reprobation, it is evident that they are manifest calumniators, our adversaries, who at the present time attach to us an absolute decree of reprobation, in such a way that there is absolutely no regard unto sin, as the cause of the decree of damnation. This our opinion is consistent: That God damns no one in time, except because of sin: thus He also decreed from eternity to damn no one, except because of sin: which was solemnly promulgated at the Synod of Dort. Nevertheless, if anyone had taught otherwise before this, or was teaching thereafter: our adversaries would know that it does not belong to good men, and strangers to the lust of calumniating, to impute either the error or private opinion of one or another to the whole Church, and under this pretext to treat the innocent with cruelty.

THESIS VII: Hitherto the causes of reprobation. The adjunct follow, which are inherent, or consequent.

THESIS VIII: The inherent adjuncts of reprobation are eternity and immutability. For reprobation, or the decree of reprobation, is eternal and immutable.

EXPLANATION: I. The eternity of reprobation is proven from the eternity of election. For, He who from eternity chose some also from eternity passed over others. Seeing that there is no election without preterition or reprobation. It is added, that God does nothing in time, except what He decreed from eternity. Whence God is said to work according to His intention.

II. The immutability of reprobation is proven from the very immutablity of God. For, as God is immutable, so also are all the decrees of God immutable. My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure, says God Himself, Isaiah 46:10.

III. At this point, some take exception to this immutability.

If the decree of reprobation is immutable, and those that are reprobated, or destined for damnation, are not able not to be damned: it follows that reprobates repent in vain, and there is not reason why they should abstain from sins, whatever those might prove to be.

But the consequent is absurd. Therefore, also the antecedent.

Response: I deny the consequent of the hypothetical proposition: For, if reprobates should earnestly repent, they would certainly not be condemned. Therefore, you say: Is the decree of reprobation mutable? Response: It does not follow. The rationale is: because no reprobate earnestly repents, or is able to do so. Then, there is absolutely a reason why reprobates should abstain from sins, at least those from which they are able to abstain. For, even if they are not able to avoid death: nevertheless, they obtain this advantage, that their future condition will be more tolerable than of those that were given reign unto whatever shameful acts. For, as the degrees of fault shall be, so also the degrees of punishment.

THESIS IX: The consequences are desertion and hardening.

EXPLANATION: I. Desertion is the final denial of saving grace, necessary for obtaining salvation. Therefore, God is thus said to desert reprobates, when He leaves them in unbelief, and denies faith in Christ. For, no reprobate is given justifying faith in Christ: as we will prove in its proper place.

II. Hardening is an effect of divine wrath, whereby God does not remove the hardness, that is, the malice of the human heart: But, by His just judgment, for the punishment of preceding sins, by means generally external He aggravates it, in such a way that He does not infuse a new degree of hardness, but rather permits it spontaneously to spring forth, as it were, from the previously existing evil roots. Thus in Exodus God is repeatedly said to have hardened the heart of Pharaoh.

Hardening, κατ᾽ ἐξοχὴν, pre-eminently, so called, does not befall all reprobates indiscriminately: but at least some notorious sinners. Whence it is an extraordinary judgment of God, which is not at all summed up in bare permission and direction: seeing that permission concerns all reprobates, as does direction also.

At this point the Lutherans agitate the waters, when they hear from us, that God hardens, not only by permission (as they maintain), but also by doing something in the impious or outside of them, that their greater hardness and malice might follow. But let them check themselves for a moment, and consider: That the act of hardening is not summed up in bare permission (we speak not concerning the end only, or direction unto an end), we prove:

(1.) Hardening is a judicial act of GOD and an effect of divine wrath. But a judge does not punish only by permission, but by actually inflicting punishment, either himself, or through another.

(2.) In hardening God does something, as it is evident from the often repeated expression of Scripture, which expresses in words signifying action this judgment of provoked Deity. But one that only permits, does not act, but only permits another to act. Neither is direction unto an end sufficient for the event: because direction is not hardening, but a consequence of it.

(3.) If hardening, κατ᾽ ἐξοχὴν, pre-eminently, so called, were only permission, it would not be an extraordinary judgment of God, which is peculiarly exercised against certain eminent sinners. But the consequent is false: with our very adversaries bearing witness.

The rationale of the hypothetical proposition is: that, whatever sins are perpetrated by whatever sinners, are permitted by God.

(4.) If, therefore, God is said to harden a man, only in that He merely permits him to be hardened; He would similarly be said also to steal and to perpetrate all sins, because He permits all.

But the consequent is false. Therefore, the antecedent also.

(5.) If only by permission God had hardened Pharaoh, the commandment concerning the release of the people, repeated so many times by Moses, so many miracles performed in his presence, so many punishments inflicted on Egypt, would not have been necessary: by all which the tyrant was all the more hardened and exasperated.

(6.) Augustine, book 5 contra Julianum, chapter 3, by many and powerful testimonies and arguments of Scripture proves, that God concurs in the blinding of the mind and hardening of the heart, not only by permission, or sufferance, but also by power and action, through which many things may happen, whereby the sinner through his own fault derives hardness of heart, and nourishes and strengthens it. Hence in de gratia et libero arbitrio, chapters 20, 21, he teaches from the Scripture, and frequently inculcates, that even the wills of the wicked are moved and inclined by God, by a certain just and hidden judgment, to perpetrate those things that, with respect to men, have the manner of sin. Let the other passages of Augustine by considered, in the following chapter concerning Providence, thesis 10, Explanation 2. Let the fuller explanation and demonstration of the Augustinian opinion be seen in Pererius, on Exodus 11, disputation 8;[2] in Becanus, Theologiæ Scholasticæ, part 2, tractate 2, chapter 6, question 4. Let the Reader consider the opinion of Luther concerning hardening, separated by the whole heaven from the doctrine of the more recent Lutherans, in our Exercitationibus Theologicis, Exercitatation 19, § 3.

III. The matter is briefly stated in this way:

God hardens, as judge: Satan hardens, as executioner: the impious harden themselves, as the guilty.

God hardens, not by infusing wickedness but hardness: but,

(1.) By deserting in hardness or wickedness, through the denial or removal of His grace.

(2.) By bringing to pass certain things, good in and of themselves, both in the impious, and outside of them, whereby they, by their own innate wickedness, take occasion for greater hardness; of which sort are various affections, thoughts not evil of themselves, objects of honors, riches, etc., into which the corrupt mind, by a certain blind impetus, is readily carried: various calamities, accusations, threats, prohibitions, precepts.

(3.) By delivering to Satan, and to their own lusts.

(4.) By inclining evil desires to certain objects, to heap up punishments.

Satan hardens, with power received from God, by inciting to whatever evils, by agitating the reason and fancy, by terrifying, by instilling vain hopes, by suggesting evil thoughs, even through dreams.

The impious harden themselves, by serving their lusts, by rejecting the dictate of right reason, by despising instruction and warnings, etc.

Therefore, it is evident that the actions concurring in hardening are on the part of Satan and the impious generally evil, but on the part of God all are good of themselves, and so God is by no means made the author of sin; even if He hardens, not just by permission, but also by action. See Exercitation 19.

IV. There is no certainty of reprobation, while man lives, except by the sin against the Holy Spirit, which is never remitted, and so falls only upon reprobates.[3] All other sins are remissible, which are common to the elect, especially those not yet renewed, with the reprobates; whence whence from them judgment can not, and ought not, to be made concerning reprobation. Now, the sin against the Holy Spirit does not fall upon all reprobates, but only upon some: just as is the case with hardening, κατ᾽ ἐξοχὴν, pre-eminently, so called. Therefore, even if there are far more reprobates than elect, no one has a just cause to despair, except one that is conscious to himself of the sin against the Holy Spirit: concerning which, nevertheless, judgment is not to be passed rashly.

[1] Paul Eber (1511-1569) was a German reformer and moderate Lutheran theologian. He was a friend of Philipp Melanchthon, and served as Professor of Old Testament at Wittenberg (1557). [2]Selectæ disputationes in sacram scripturam, volume 1. [3] See Matthew 12:31, 32; Mark 3:28, 29; Luke 12:10.

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