Agonizomai: <em>"Decretum Horribilis"</em> Horribly Defamed?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

"Decretum Horribilis" Horribly Defamed?

Dr. William Cunningham points out the utter unfairness of many of Calvin's Anglican critics in using his own words against him. Calvin had described double predestination and the attendant decree of reprobation by God as a "decretum horribilis". The Arminian Anglicans (as opposed to the orthodox ones) pounced on the use of "horribilis" and inferred that Calvin was appalled to think that God would decree some to be saved and some to be damned.

But Calvin's use of the word "
horribilis" was actually consistent with his meaning "awe-full" or "awe inspiring", as he did in using the phrase "Horribilis Dei majestas" for the awe and solemnity with which God's majesty is contemplated. John Bunyan the tinker/preacher, however, got it without the benefit of High Anglican training and defended it in his work "Reprobation Asserted". Here is Bunyan's view of the part of the decree that relates to election unto salvation in his own case.


For thus the elect considereth: Though we all came alike into the world and are the children of wrath by nature, yea, though we have alike so weakened ourselves by sin that the whole head is sick and the whole heart faint, being altogether gone out of the way, and every one become altogether unprofitable, both to God and ourselves, yet that God should open mine eyes, convert my soul, give me faith, forgive my sins, raise me, when I fall, fetch me again when I am gone astray – this is wonderful!

Yea, that he should prepare eternal mansions for me, and also keep me by his blessed and mighty power for that; and that in a way of believing, which without his assistance I am in no way able to perform – that he should do this notwithstanding my sins, though I had no righteousness, yea, that he should do it according to the riches of his grace, through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ our Lord, even according to an everlasting covenant of grace, which yet the greatest part of the world are void of, and will for ever miss and fall short of!

Besides, that he should mollify my heart, break it, and then delight in it, put his fear in it, and then look to me, and keep me as the apple of his eye; yea, resolve to guide me with his counsel, and then receive me to glory! Further, that all this should be the effect of unthought-of, undeserved, and undesired love – that the Lord should think on this before he made the world, and sufficiently ordain the means before he had laid the foundation of the hills, – for this he is worthy to be praised; yea, "Let every thing that hath breath praise the Lord; praise ye the Lord."

In the same chapter, Bunyan completes the thought by putting double predestination in its proper spiritual and doctrinal context as follows...

Thus you see again that the non-elect perish by reason of sin, notwithstanding present mercy, because of eternal justice; and that the elect are preserved from the death (though they sin and are obnoxious to the strokes of present justice) by reason of eternal mercy. What shall we say, then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid; "He hath mercy on whom he will have mercy, and compassion on whom he will have compassion."

John Bunyan
Reprobation Asserted - Chapter 11


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