Preterition and the Lopsided View of the Divine Decree



The doctrine of the Divine decree is inseparably connected with that of the manifestation of the Divine glory, because the latter is the end and aim of the former. Some Presbyteries recommend a one-sided fractional view of the Divine decree, by striking out reprobation from the Westminster Confession and leaving election as it now stands. In order to determine whether this view of the Divine decree is Scriptural or rational, it is necessary to determine what is meant by the manifestation of the Divine glory, and whether it can be secured by manifesting only the mercy of God to the exclusion of his justice.

The " glory of God" means either his essential or his manifested glory. It is the manifested glory that is intended when the question is asked, whether God does everything for his own glory; whether in all his works his object is to reveal to angels and men the intrinsic and inherent glory of his being and nature. One would say, on the face of it, that this is no question at all. What else should God do anything for, but to show that he is an infinitely perfect and good being? but to exhibit in various ways his natural and moral qualities?

1. The essential glory of God means all that is glorious in God. In the Scriptures "glory" is a general term to denote the sum-total of all the qualities that constitute the Divine excellence. The nature and attributes of God are the glory of God. They make him a glorious being. In this sense the "glory of God " is only another name for infinite perfection; only another name for the entire aggregate of the Divine attributes. Sometimes the phrase has chief reference to God's natural attributes, as seen in the material universe. "The heavens declare the glory of God." "O Lord, our Lord, how excellent is thy name in all the earth! who hast set thy glory above [or upon] the heavens." Such texts as these speak of the glory, or glorious excellence, of God as displayed in creation and providence. Sometimes the principal reference is to God's moral attributes, as seen in redemption. "I will send those that escape from them unto the nations, and they shall declare my glory among the Gentiles." "Declare his glory among the heathen." In Eph. 1: 14, "The redemption of the purchased possession is unto the praise of God's glory." In Phil. 1: 11, "The fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ are unto the glory and praise of God." Such Scriptures as these show that the "glory of God" does not mean self-applause but moral excellence; and that when God is said to do all things for his own glory, the meaning is that he does them for the purpose of revealing in nature and grace his infinite perfections. When therefore the phrase is defined in accordance with its use in the Bible, and with the idea of an infinitely perfect being, it has nothing that should excite opposition. There is not the slightest reason for confounding it with human vanity, or the selfish love of fame among men.

The essential glory of God is a fixed quantit\'. There can be neither increase nor diminution of it. When man is commanded, "whether he eat or drink, or whatever he does, to do all to the glory of God," it is not meant that his action can add anything to the inherent glory of God, and make him more glorious intrinsically than he was before. In respect to the essential glory of God, neither angel nor man can do anything. But the intrinsic and immutable excellence of God is capable of being manifested to angels and men, and also, in a secondary manner, by angels and men; for when angels and men recognize and acknowledge the glory of God by their acts of obedience and adoration, they too declare and set it forth in an inferior degree.

2. Secondly, the essential glory of God is the foundation of all worship. It is because the Supreme Being has this constellation of attributes, this sum-total of infinite perfections which is grouped under the name of "glory," that he is worthy of adoration. Jf a single one of these attributes were wanting, the Divine glory would be defective; and a defective -Being would not be worthy of the hallelujahs of heaven. Those who deny, either theoretically or practically, the Divine holiness and justice, and affirm only the Divine benevolence and mercy, mutilate the Divine nature and destroy the Divine glory. They metamorphose the Snpreme Being, and demolish the completeness, symmetry, and harmony of his nature, and render worship impossible. The grandest of all music, the lofty chorals and anthems of the Christian Church, the "Te Deum Landamns" and the "Gloria Patri," suppose all of the Divine attributes, and are prompted by the full-orbed glory of God.

3. Thirdly, since all of the Divine attributes go to make up the total glory of God, they must all of them be manifested if there is to be a complete manifestation of the Divine perfection. It is at this point that the defective view of the Divine decree which is now sought to be introduced into the Westminster Confession takes its start. The reviser of this class concedes that the Divine glory is manifested when God in the exercise of his benevolence and mercy elects many sinners to everlasting life, but denies that it is also manifested when God in the exercise of his holiness and justice leaves some sinners to their own free will, and permits them to go down voluntarily to eternal death. He declares that election is a true doctrine, and would have it retained in the Presbyterian creed; but that reprobation is a " horrible" doctrine, and would have it stricken out. When the Confession (iii. 3) asserts that "by the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life," he says, Amen. But when it also asserts that "by the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are foreordained to everlasting death," he rejects the statement as dishonoring to God. That God intends from all eternity to display his mercy in pardoning a sinner, is unobjectionable; but that he also intends from all eternity to display his justice in punishing a sinner, is vehemently opposed. The Divine love for the soul of man he thinks is worthy of God; but not the Divine wrath against the sin of man. The reviser of this class makes a selection among the Divine attributes, and confines the exhibition of the Divine glory in the Divine decree to them.

Now this one-sided and lopsided view of the Divine decree, is founded upon an erroneous view of the nature of retributive justice. It virtually implies that retributive justice does not belong to the congeries of attributes which constitutes the total glory of God; and that to manifest it by leaving some sinners to their own free will in sinning, and then punishing them according to the just desert of their sin, is not a manifestation of glory but a disgrace. But the manifestation of justice is as truly a manifestation of the glory of God as the manifestation of mercy, provided both attributes belong to the Divine nature, and that both are infinitely excellent. The decree to manifest it has nothing to do with the nature of the attribute in either instance. If it is proper for God to inflict retribution at all, it is proper for him to intend to do so from all eternity. And if it is proper for God to show mercy at all, it is proper for him to intend to do so from all eternity. Justice is as morally excellent as mercy; and holiness as benevolence. All of the divine attributes are perfect. No one is inferior to the others in this respect, because infinity characterizes them all. When God punishes impenitent and hardened Satan, and all beings who have his impenitent and hardened spirit, his act is as worthy of praise and adoration as when he pardons penitent sinners through Jesus Christ. "I heard a great voice of much people in heaven, saying, Alleluia; Salvation, and glory, and honor, and power, unto the Lord our God; for true and righteous are his judgments" (Rev. 19: 1, 2).

The view of retributive justice which we are criticising has no support either in Scripture or in reason. St. Paul asserts that "the ministration of death written and engraven in stones was glorious;" and that " the ministration of condemnation is glory" (2 Cor. 3: 7, 9). The ministration of death is the ministration of justice; the infliction of the righteous penalty, "The soul that sinneth it shall die." And the inspired apostle affirms that it is intrinsically glorious and exhibits the glory of God. It is true that he adds that "the ministration of the Spirit'' and "the ministration of [imputed] righteousness" "exceed in glory" the ministration of condemnation; that is, that the gospel shows more of the Divine attributes, and so is a fuller manifestation of the Divine plenitude of perfection than the legal and punitive dispensation is. Bnt in so saying, he does not retract his proposition, that " the ministration of condemnation is glory." There is no need of quoting the multitude of texts that teach that holiness and justice are as grand and venerable attributes in the Divine nature, as benevolence and mercy. They excite the emotions of praise and adoration in the highest heavens. The wing-veiled seraphim emphasize these attributes in particular when they worship God in their trisagion, "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of Hosts." The redeemed "sins; the song of Moses and the Lamb, saying, Great and marvellous are thy works, Lord God Almighty ; just and true are thy ways, thou King of saints. Who shall not fear thee, O Lord, and glorify thy name? for thou only art holy" (Rev. 15: 3, 4).

The argument from reason is equally conclusive that holiness and justice constitute an essential part of the Divine character, and are august attributes that contribute to the Divine honor and glory, and therefore ought to be manifested. They are the attributes that underlie all government and legislation, human and divine. The science of law, which is next in dignity to that of theology, and in some respects is as abstruse and logical, and should therefore share in the abuse so frequently showered upon systematic theology, is built out of this quarry; and in the familiar but ever lofty and noble phrase of Hooker, the seat of law is the bosom of God, and the voice of law is the.harmony of the world.

It is therefore both unscriptural and irrational to confine the manifestation of God's gloiw to one side of God's decree, and to some selected and favorite attributes. Within the three provinces of creation, providence, and redemption all of the attributes are manifested; and more of them are manifested in redemption than in creation and providence. And this is the best reason that can be suggested for the permission of sin. Without sin there could be no redemption from sin, and if there had been no redemption from sin that marvellous union and combination and harmonizing of mercy with justice in the vicarious sacrifice of God incarnate and crucified, could have had no manifestation whatever. All this side of the glory of God would have been kept secret and hidden in the depths of the Godhead, and been utterly unknown to angels and men.

And here let it be noticed that the question, how many are elected and how many are reprobate, has nothing to do with the question whether God may either elect or reprobate sinners. If it is intrinsically right for him either to elect or not to elect, either to save or not to save free moral agents who by their own fault have plunged themselves into sin and ruin, numbers are of no account in establishing the Tightness. And if it is intrinsic-ally wrong, numbers are of no account in establishing the wrongness. Neither is there any necessity that the number of the elect should be small, and that of the non-elect great; or the converse. The election and the non-election, and also the numbers of the elect and the non-elect, are all alike a matter of sovereignty and optional decision. At the same time it relieves the solemnity and awfnlness which overhang the decree of reprobation, to remember that the Scriptures teach that the number of the elect is much greater than that of the non-elect. The kingdom of the Redeemer in this fallen world is always described as far greater and grander than that of Satan. The operation of grace on earth is uniformly represented as mightier than that of sin. "Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound." And the final number of the redeemed is said to be "a multitude which no man can number," but tbat of the lost is not so magnified and emphasized.

4. Fourthly, the reason why God should do everything for his own glory in the manifestation of all of his attributes, and why all of his rational creatures should do everything for the same purpose, so far as is possible to them, is because he is the first cause and the last end of all things. "Of him, and through him, and to him, are all things," says St. Paul. Every created being and thing must have a final end; a terminus. The mineral kingdom is made for the vegetable kingdom; the vegetable kingdom is made for the animal kingdom; the animal kingdom is made for man ; and all of them together are made for God. Go through all the ranges of creation, from the molecule of matter to the seraphim, and if you ask for the final purpose of its creation, the reply is the glory of the Maker. And this is reasonable. For God is the greatest and most important, if we may use the word in such a connection, of all beings. That which justifies man in putting the dumb animals to his own uses, is the fact that he is a grander creature than they are. That which makes the inanimate world subservient to the animate; that which subsidizes the elements of earth, air, and water, and makes them tributary to the nourishment and growth of the beast and the bird, is the fact that the beast and the bird are of a higher order of existence than earth, air, and water. It was because man was the noblest, the most important, of all the creatures that God placed upon this planet, that he subordinated them all to him, and said to him in the original patent by which he deeded the globe to him: "Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed; have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth."

Now this principle holds good of the relation between the whole creation and its Creator. He is a higher and greater being than the whole created universe. The mass of his being, so to speak, outweighs all other masses. He never has created, he never can create, anything equal to himself in infinity and glory. And therefore it is that he is the final end, the cause of causes, the absolute terminus where all the sweep and movement of creation must come to a rest. It is an objection of the sceptic, and sometimes of those who are not sceptics, that this perpetual assertion in the Scriptures that God is the chief end of creation, and this perpetual demand that the creature glorify him, is only a species of infinite egotism; that in making the whole unlimited universe subservient to him and his purposes, the Deity is only exhibiting selfishness upon an immense scale. But this objection overlooks the fact that God is an infinitely greater and higher being than any or all of his creatures; and that from the very nature of the case the less must be subordinated to the greater. Is it egotism, when man employs in his service his ox or his ass? Is it selfishness, when the rose or the lily takes up into its own fabric and tissue the inanimate qualities of matter, and converts the dull and colorless elements of the clod into hues and odors, into beauty and bloom? There would be egotism in the procedure, if man were of no higher grade of existence than the ox or the ass. There would be selfishness, if the rose and the lily were upon the same level with the inanimate elements of matter. But the greater dignity in each instance justifies the use and the subordination. And so it is, only in an infinitely greater degree, in the case when the whole creation is subordinated and made to serve and glorify the Creator. The distance between man and his ox, between the lily and the particle of moisture which it imbibes, is measurable. It is not infinite. But the distance between God and the highest of his archangels is beyond computation. He chargeth his angels with folly. And therefore upon the principle that the less must serve the greater, the lower must be subordinate to the higher, it is right and rational that "every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, should say: 'Blessing and honor, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb, forever and ever.'"