top of page

Wendelin's "Christian Theology": Secondary Attributes of God, Part 2

THESIS XVIII: The principium commanding action is the will, whereby God wills Himself of Himself, and beyond Himself all things because of Himself, or His own glory.

EXPLANATION: I. Scripture everywhere attributes to God Will and willing: Let a few testimonies, out of a great many, be observed: Isaiah 46:10, my counsel shall stand, and I will do all my will. Romans 9:19, who hath resisted His will? John 6:39, this is the will of Him that sent me. Now, the highest end of the divine will is the glory of God alone, which, by the will of God, all things are obliged to serve: 1 Corinthians 10:31, do all to the glory of God.

II. Some distinctions in the divine will, made use of in the schools, are properly to be observed here: as the will of God is hidden or revealed; is of good pleasure or of sign.

The hidden will, properly so called, is the eternal and immutable decree of God concerning the great many things to be done or permitted in time, that are unknown to us for want of revelation. To this pertains that saying in Deuteronomy 29:29, the secret things belong unto Jehovah our God: but those things that are written here belong unto you and your children. Thus a great many things that God has decreed concerning individual things (with those excepted, that pertain to the πληροφορίας, full assurance, of faith) are completely unknown to us until they happen. Whence James, in James 4, rebukes the arrogance of those that plan their business for days to come, while they are ignorant of what is going to happen on the next day, and commands them to add this condition to their plans, if the Lord will, verse 15.

The revealed will is not properly the decree of God, but a revelation made in word, which nevertheless is always a testimony of some decree, but not always of that which is conceived by us at first glance.

Now, this revelation is set forth in the form of a commandment, or of a promise, or of a threat.

If what God commands to be done is done, the revelation is a sign and testimony of a decree concerning the effecting or permitting of those things that are done. If what He promises is fulfilled, the revelation is a sign of a decree concerning the fulfilling of those things that are fulfilled. If what He threatens He inflicts, the revelation is a sign of a decree concerning the inflicting of those things that are inflicted.

But, if what He commands to be done is not done, the revelation is a sign of a decree concerning the advising of man of his duty by precept, and the obliging of him to do it: so that he might be made ἀναπολόγητος/ inexcusable.[1]

If what He promises under a condition, expressed or tacit, He does not fulfill, the revelation is a sign of a decree concerning the showing of the manner to man, whereby a good promise might be gained, and on account of which a good promise is not gained, which is the neglect of the prescribed condition.

If what He threatens under a condition He does not inflict, the revelation is a sign of a decree concerning the exciting of man to his duty, or to repentance, and the forgiving of the punishment through the intervening repentance.

Whence it is evident that there is no contradiction, or disagreement, between the revelation and the divine decree, if only the diversity of decrees be attended to, and the sense of the revelation be evident. Hitherto the former distinction in the divine will.

III. The other distinction into the Will of good pleasure and of sign, does not differ from the former, except that the will of good pleasure, properly so called, is able to be either hidden or manifest. For some things of the good pleasure of God are revealed in the word, but others not revealed. The will of sign is plainly the same as revealed will, or the revelation of the decree. In which case, nevertheless, special care is to be taken, lest a revelation be applied to a decree, of which it is not the revelation, and from which, with respect to sense, it is completely diverse. Against which many dash themselves, and less successfully loose seeming contradictions; indeed, they entangle themselves and others. Let those things that we said above in the prolegomena, chapter I, thesis 5, concerning the truth of the divine word, be seen and considered.

Our assertion is express: God wills nothing by the will of sign, that He does not at the same time will by the will of good pleasure: if only not just any good pleasure be understood: I demonstrate the matter with a single example.

God wills in His word, that all men be holy and conformed to the divine law: But, since the greatest part of men is not holy, nor conformed to the divine law; it follows that God by His eternal decree does not will to sanctify all, and in this respect does not will all to be holy, since no one is able to be holy, unless God sanctifies.

At this point there appears to be a contradiction between the wills of God, which many think themselves to reconcile completely, if they say, God wills one thing by the will of sign, another by the will of good pleasure. But they do not sufficiently loose themselves. For, if with the will of sign does not exactly agree the will of good pleasure, a sign of which God sets forth in His word, it is certainly done according to the truth of the divine word:

Therefore, it is to be responded, that there is no contradiction here: even if there is some diversity. Indeed, the will expressed in the word, or the revelation, that God wills all men to be holy, is not a sign of good pleasure or decree, concerning not sanctifying the greatest part of men: for at this point there is no agreement, which is required between a sign and the thing signified, or the word and concept: But of another good pleasure or decree, that it concerns the obliging of all men by precept to the study of holiness as a duty. There is a different revelation of the other good pleasure or decree, concerning not sanctifying the greatest part of men, partly by the word, partly by the event. Thus all Orthodox Theologians deny that there are contradictory wills in God, as I have shown in Exercitation I. Therefore, those that say that God wills something by the will of sign, which He does not will by the will of good pleasure, admit an apparent contradiction, but not a true one; now, it is apparent, because that which does not agree with this or that good pleasure, but another, appears to be a sign of His good pleasure: and so it is not truly a sign of that, but of another good pleasure, with which it is in agreement, as we just now said: as those that attribute dissimulation to God, with Luther and some Lutherans, set at odds the will of sign and the will of good pleasure: see Exercitation I. In this manner also is the hidden God of Luther contrary to the revealed God. See Exercitation 4. The same on Genesis 6, page 124, in the edition published at Wittenberg: This (hidden election), says he, we are not able to comprehend, and we see that it fights with the revealed will of God.

IV. Some also distinguish the will of God into absolute and conditional; they say that the former is suspended upon no condition, but the latter upon condition. If they understood this distinction of the will of sign alone, we would readily approve. For, it is sufficiently evident, that some precepts, promises, and threats are conditional. But, since they extend it also to the decrees of God, and contend that some of the divine decrees are conditional, that is, suspended upon conditions, even indeed of that sort which God infallibly foreknew from eternity were not going to be fulfilled: just as when they say, God decreed to save those also that are presently damned, under this condition, it they would repent, and perseveringly trust in Christ: we certainly do not approve: Because decrees of this sort are diametrically opposed to the wisdom of God: since this lack of consideration is not even consistent with a prudent man, that under a condition he would seriously determine, or resolve with himself to do, what from the want or neglect of the condition he foreknows that he is never going to do, indeed the contrary of which he resolves with himself to do; because he certainly foreknows that the condition is never going to be fulfilled, or is not even able to be fulfilled in a certain respect. Thus, for example, no prudent prince will determine within himself to exalt some courtier, already aged, rude, stupid, and lacking eloquence and prudence, to the dignity of Chancellor, under this condition, if he should acquire for himself eloquence, prudence, and knowledge of politics and law. But should we attribute this law of consideration in making decisions to God? God forbid. Now, in what sense even the Orthodox might allow that the decrees of God are conditional, learn, good reader, from the words of our Moulin, Enodatione gravissimarum quæstionum, page 315: We remove, says he, from the divine decrees conditions, through which the decrees of God are made unstable and hanging from a swing, as it were, and the fulfillment of which depends on human choice. This is not GOD’S decree, nor plan: I elect this one unto salvation, If he should believe or repent: but: I elect this one unto salvation, through faith and repentance, which I am going to give to him. But by taking the condition for the means, without which God does not conduct to the end: we know that such conditions are not absent from the decree of GOD. Thus God had decreed to send the Israelites into possession of the land of Canaan through labors and combat: and to save the family of Noah through the ark. These means are conditions decreed by GOD, and through which He wills to conduct man to the end. Conditions of this sort do not prevent the decree of God from being absolute, that is, not dependent on a condition belonging to human choice. For God by an absolute decree decreed to save man by faith, etc. At the same time, even with respect to the means of obtaining the end of the things decreed and ordained, the decree of God is less properly called conditional: because the decree is not suspended upon means, as the nature of a condition requires, but they are absolutely comprehended in the decree, no less than the end.

Of the same class is the distinction of the divine will into antecedent and consequent: as it is indeed explained by our adversaries: when they say, God decreed to save all and individual men, with no distinction, under this condition, if they should believe upon Christ: and that by an antecedent will. But again, He saves only some: because He foresaw that only some were going to believe: and that by a consequent will. The former decree is completely contrary to the wisdom of God: the latter also charges God Himself with imprudence, or supposes with Pelagius, that faith in Christ is the product of human choice: concerning which there will be a more lengthy treatment in its own place. That the antecedent will is also called a decree by the Lutherans, although some deny this, I have proven in Exercitation 13, § 2, 3, 9, Exercitation 14, § 1, and elsewhere. The Lutherans have this distinction continually in their mouths, of which they cite Damascenus[2] as author, which we with good reason repudiate as ἄγραφον/unwritten and ἀντίγραφον/anti-written, taken in the Lutheran sense, solidly disputing against which see of our men Moulin in Anatome Arminianismi, chapter 5; Chamier in Panstratia, Tome 3, page 115; Rivet[3] in Disputationibus XIII, disputation 7, § 23, etc., where against the mind of Damascenus he shows it to have been twisted by the Arminians and Lutherans; Maccovius in his Volume of thesium, part I, disputation 26, § 9.

V. Against our opinion they object: There is a conditional will of sign: when to the many that are condemned the Scripture promises salvation under a condition of repentance and persevering faith in Christ. Therefore, a conditional decree will be granted.

The rationale of the consequence: that the divine good pleasure, or decree, which agrees with the sign, answers in all things to the will of sign.

Response: I deny the consequence: The Proof does not follow: to the conditional will of sign answers God’s good pleasure, or decree, but not as conditional: but rather as absolute: absolute, I say, free, not in every respect, but with respect to a condition at least, from which the decree is said to be suspended.

They insist: If the will of sign is conditional, but the decree, answering to the sign, is absolute; then certainly the harmony between the sign and the thing signified, or the word and the decree, is removed.

Response: I deny the Consequence: the reason for the denial is: a conditional proposition, according to Jurisconsults and Logicians, having an impossible condition annexed (to which is equivalent a thing that is never able to be fulfilled, and is not able to be fulfilled in a certain respect), is equivalent to an absolute proposition, or to a categorical denial. Therefore, thus a will of sign, which has an annexed condition impossible in a certain respect, or never to be fulfilled, is equivalent to an absolute and categorical denial: to which corresponds a decree negative and absolute, or not suspended on a condition: even if the negation of the condition is able to enter the degree as the reason for not furnishing or conferring some thing.

Thus the promise, under the condition of repentance and faith in Christ, concerning the salvation of one that, because of final impenitence, is to be condemned, is equivalent to a categorical denial concerning the salvation of that man, on account of his final impenitence, to which answers also a negative decree, which includes a regard to impenitence and unbelief, as the causes of future damnation.

They insist: Then God makes sport of those, to whom under condition He promises salvation, if He has absolutely decreed not to save, even if not without respect to the causes of the decreed damnation.

Response: It does not follow. Because by conditional promises of this sort God shows the means of salvation and the causes of just damnation, namely, the neglect of the means or requisite antecedents of salvation: now, He shows it to this end, that they are rendered ἀναπολόγητοι/inexcusable, and understand that they are condemned rightly/lawfully.

But, you say, they are not able to apply those means.

Response: This does not excuse them: because their inability is their own fault.

VI. It is asked concerning the will of God: Whether there is any cause of it?

Response: Sometimes the will of God is taken for the object willed by the divine will: or that which God wills: Which signification is not attended in this place: for God wills whatever things outside of Himself regardless of the creatures: it is beyond controversy, both that the will of God itself has a cause, and that it is also able to have a cause in the things created. Therefore, in this place it is asked concerning the will wherewith God wills. Which is conceived by us either by way of the actus primi, first act, or faculty, or by way of the actus secundi, second act, or action, which we call volition: which, nevertheless, as far as it is in God, is nothing other than God Himself willing.

Therefore, learned Theologians respond, that there is no cause, properly so called, of the divine will, whether instrumental, or impulsive, or final: although it is not ἄλογος, or without reason.

These are the reasons in general against a cause:

(1.) Because God is cause, in such a way that He is not at all caused: but He would be caused, if His will or volition, which is not distinguished from God Himself willing, should have a cause properly so called.

(2.) Because nothing is prior to, nothing greater than, the will of God, but something would be greater than, and something prior to, it, if it had a cause. Thus Augustine concludes, book 1 against the Manicheans, chapter 2, and book 83 Quæstionum.

(3.) Because the will of God is independent being, which is always in act, never in potency. But whatever has a cause, properly so called, that depends upon its cause, and is in potency with respect to it.

These are the reasons in particular against an instrumental cause:

(1.) Volition is an immediate and eternal act of God:

Therefore, it has no instrumental cause. The rationale of the consequence: That, what happens by an intervening instrument, is not done immediately by the principal cause.

(2.) The instrumental cause of the divine will is either something uncreated, or created. Not uncreated, because nothing is uncreated but God: Not created, because there is no creature is co-eternal with God.

These are the reasons in particular against an impulsive cause:

Whatever acts, impelled by another agents, that is acted upon by another.

But the will of God is not acted upon by another:

Therefore, it does not act, impelled by another agents.

The Minor is proven. Because in God, who is His will, there is no passive potency.

These are the reasons in particular against a final cause:

(1.) Every agent, having a final cause, properly so called, is moved or impelled to act.

But the will of God is not moved to act.

Therefore, it does not have a final cause, properly so called.

The Major is proven: Because final causality with respect to the principal agent consists in this, that it moves, or impels, the efficient to act.

The Minor is proven: Because the will of God, which is God Himself, is the immovable, moving principium.

(2.) What has a final cause, properly so called, to it the volition of the end is the cause of the volition of the means.

But to the divine will the volition of the end is the not the cause of the volition of the means.

Therefore, the divine will does not have a final cause, properly so called.

The Minor is proven: Because in God the volition of the end is not one thing, and the volition of the means another; since He will end and means in one simple act: as He understands cause and effect in one simple act of intuition, and so the knowledge of the cause does not cause the knowledge of the effect: since one and the same things is not the cause of itself. Let Thomas be considered, Summa, part I, question 19, article 5. Whose assertion is: The Will of God in no way has a cause, who, even if he favors human merits too much, yet thinks no one to be so insane, that he would say that merits are the causes of divine predestination, on the part of the predestinating act. See also Zanchi, de attributis divinis, book 3, chapter r, question 11: One question is, says he: whether there is some reason for the divine will? But it is another question, whether there is some moving cause of the same, or some efficient cause? The first we acknowledge: for the will of God is not able to be ἄλογος, without reason, etc. But we deny the second, etc. See also Tilenus, Syntagmate, part 1, disputation 13, § 26; Ames, in his Rescriptione, pages 26, 27; Maccovius in his Volume of thesium, part I, disputation 27, § 8; Moulin, Enodatione, page 187. The words of Arminius are also express, disputatione de Deo, § 51: God is not moved by an external cause to will, nor by another efficient, nor by an end outside of Himself, not even by an object that is not Himself. Neither did Luther acknowledge any cause of the divine will, as I have shown in my Exercitation.

Therefore, to human capacity do those accommodate themselves, who assign to the divine will moving and impulsive causes, with whom we also often speak in this little work: for we men represent the divine majesty and sublimity to ourselves only with human and humble concepts.

VII. Against the contrary opinion exception is taken.

(1.) An acting thing, that wills an end, has a final cause.

But the divine will is an acting thing, that wills an end.

Therefore, it has a final cause.

Response: The Major is not conceded, except concerning an acting thing that wills an end in such a way that the volition of the end is the cause of the volition of the means; or that is moved by the end to choose means. But God does not will an end in this way: as we have previously shown.

(2.) If God will creatures because of His own goodness: certainly He will them because of a true final cause.

But the former is true: Therefore, the latter also.

The rationale of the Connection: that the goodness of God is truly and properly the end of creatures.

Response: The whole is able to be conceded in this sense; God wills creatures because of a true final cause, namely, of the creatures themselves, not of the divine will. For the divine goodness is the final cause of creatures, not of the divine will.

(3.) He that will means because of an end, is moved to will those things by the end, and, by consequence, has a final cause of his will.

But God wills the means because of the end.

Therefore, He is moved by the end to will them.

Response: The Major is not true, except concerning one that by one volition wills the end, but by another the means. But God by the same volition wills both the end and the means together: whence the volition of the end is not able to be the cause of willing the means; otherwise one and the same thing would be the cause of itself: as we noted above.

(4.) God wills the Gospel to be preached because of the salvation of the elect.

Therefore, the salvation of the elect is the cause of the will of preaching the Gospel.

Response: I deny the Consequence: this only follows: Therefore, the salvation of the elect is the cause of the preached Gospel.

Therefore, it is to be observed, that of those things that God wills a final cause, because of which they are, is able to be: but of the will itself immediately the same is not the cause. Whence that rule of Thomas, God wills this because of this, but not because of this does He will this! where because of is referred to those things that God wills, not to the will whereby He wills. Others thus say the same thing: God wills one thing to exist because of another: But that one thing is not the cause, properly so called, whereby the will of God is internally moved to decree that other thing.

(5.) God is moved by the prayers of men to will to show mercy. Therefore, the prayers of men are the impulsive cause of the will to show mercy.

Response: The Antecedent is not conceded, except κατ᾽ ἄνθρωπον, anthropopathically, and according to our manner of understanding, for the reasons previously alleged: The effect of the divine will, namely, mercy, is able to be referred to our prayers as a cause only in a certain way: but our prayers are not able to be called the cause of the divine will itself: unless perhaps it be agreeable to appeal, according to our capacity, to the rationale of willing. For, at this point a rationale, rather than a cause, is more easily admitted by the learned. The rationale of the divine will and decree is one thing; the rationale of the execution is another: the latter acknowledges and admits many mediate causes, the former none.

(6.) God chose men to be saved through faith in Christ. Therefore, faith is the instrumental cause of the decree of election, which is the same as the will to save.

Response: Thus some argue crudely enough, who attach to us an absolute decree of election, in which there is no τάξις/arrangement, no respect, of means, to defend foreseen faith and to assert a decree suspended on the order of means. We deny the consequence: For God did not choose certain men through faith, but He chose them immediately by His own will to obtain salvation through faith. Therefore, faith is the instrument of the decreed salvation, not of the decreeing will.

[1] Romans 1:20: “For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse (ἀναπολογήτους)…” [2] John of Damascus (c. 676-c. 760) was a monk of St. Sabas, near Jerusalem. He is remembered for his piety of life, writings, and compilation of chants in the eastern style; and, due to his defense of icons and his summary of the faith of the Fathers (Fountain of Knowledge), he is regarded by many as the last of the Eastern Fathers. [3] Andrew Rivet (1573-1651) was a Huguenot minister and divine. He ministered at Sedan and at Thouara; he went on to teach at the University of Leiden (1619-1632) and at the college at Breda. His influence among Protestants extended well beyond France.

bottom of page