Posted by: Andrew Webb | August 28, 2012

Q. Supra or Infralapsarian? A. Neither!

Image For literally years I have been uncomfortable with both the Supralapsarian and the Infralapsarian (or sublapsarian) views of Predestination. I suppose for the sake of those who may be wondering what on earth they are, I should go ahead and define them both before I explain why I don’t subscribe to either view.

Both views concern the logical order of the decrees in the mind of God and seek to answer the question of which decree logically came first, the decree to permit the fall of man or the decree of election and reprobation? The Supralapsarian believes that God determined to glorify Himself via the salvation of certain number of men (the elect) and the damnation of another certain number of men (the reprobate). Therefore he believes the decree of election and reprobation came logically prior to the decree to permit the fall. The men thus chosen were not considered as fallen. The Infralapsarian believes that the decree to permit the fall came first, and that therefore the men thus elected were considered as already fallen and thus chosen from “the perishing mass of humanity.”

I have never been happy with either viewpoint for the simple reason that both seem to me to be overly curious and deal with a question that the scriptures themselves neither raise nor seek to answer. I have always felt like the odd man out in the Reformed world in this sense, as most Reformed theologians and at least one Reformed confession of faith do take a stand for one position or the other. Then to my great joy, as I was reading Robert L. Dabney’s Systematic Theology on the subject of Predestination, I found that he also believed that this was a question which ought never to have been raised. Consequently, Dabney did not hold to either system, felt that they were both erroneous and involved a misunderstanding of the decrees of God. Here is Dabney’s explanation of why he believed that [emphasis mine]:

Both Erroneous.
In my opinion this is a question which never ought to have been raised. Both schemes are illogical and contradictory to the true state of facts. But the Sublapsarian is far more Scriptural in its tendencies, and its general spirit far more honorable to God. The Supralapsarian, under a pretense of greater symmetry, is in reality the more illogical of the two, and misrepresents the divine character and the facts of Scripture in a repulsive manner. The view from which it starts, that the ultimate end must be first in design, and then the intermediate means, is of force only with reference to a finite mind. God’s decree has no succession; and to Him no successive order of parts; because it is a contemporaneous unit, comprehended altogether, by one infinite intuition. In this thing, the statements of both parties are untrue to God’s thought. The true statement of the matter is, that in this co–etaneous, unit plan, one part of the plan is devised by God with reference to a state of facts which He intended to result from another part of the plan; but all parts equally present, and all equally primary to His mind. As to the decree to create man, to permit his fall, to elect some to life; neither part preceded any other part with God. But His purpose to elect had reference to a state of facts which was to result from His purpose to create, and permit the fall. It does not seem to me that the Sublapsarian scheme makes the decree conditional. True, one result decreed is dependent on another result decreed; but this is totally another thing. No scheme can avoid this, not even the Supralapsarian, unless it does away with all agency except God’s, and makes Him the direct author of sin.

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Responses

  1. In trying to define a logical order for God’s decrees, it seems that we place logic and human thinking above God’s. Is it not more consistent with our limited understanding of God that the order of decrees is only temporal relative to us and that God’s will to act (decrees) is timeless? Thus, it was all laid out before the foundation of the world and how election works is not for us to comprehend, but rather that we might rejoice in knowing the God who saves?


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