Notes on Reformed Thought on Free Choice

Asselt, Willem J. van. Reformed Thought on Freedom: The Concept of Free Choice in Early Modern Reformed Theology. Baker Academic, 2010.

I think the criticisms of this book are overdone and largely unnecessary.  I grant that one cannot read the Reformed scholastics as recovering Scotus.  Even a friendly reader such as Richard Muller criticized A. Vos and Van Asselt on that point. I think, rather, we should focus on this book’s clear strengths.  We have before us a rich and rigorous discussion of medieval ontology.  Further, we have translations from Zachi and Voetius that you wouldn’t otherwise find.  Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we have the writings of Turretin himself.  I largely don’t care whether Turretin is the modern day equivalent of a determinist, compatibilist, or libertarian.  That is not my area of strength. I defer to the experts.  On the other hand, I have read Turretin fairly closely over the last decade.  I have an idea of what he said.  That’s what is most important in this volume.

While I remain unconvinced that the Reformed were as Scotist as the authors make them to be, much of the text is straightforward.  Let’s try to ignore the later debates on whether Jonathan Edwards innovated or not. The question before the house, or the status quaestionis, is “What saith Junius?”  We don’t care about trying to make them determinists or compatibilists or libertarians.  We are doing historical theology.  What did they actually say? 

In the introduction we get a survey of modal concepts.  The editors are in dangerous waters.  On one hand, since the Reformed scholastics (and medievals) dealt with issues of necessity and possibility and terms denoted by posse, they engaged in modal reasoning.  They might not have the fine-tuned systems we have today, but it is there.  On the other hand, the more they wade in these waters the more the discussion is likely to turn to modern discussions of libertarianism and determinism, and so incur the ire of analytic theologians.  Maybe that can’t be helped.

Fun fact: the more I read these guys, the more I realize that the Reformed have much in common with Dominican style theologians. We stand with Banez and Thomas against the Jesuits.

Main idea:  For the Reformed, “God as the First Cause (prima causa) and creatures as secondary causes (secunda causae) concur together in their acting to produce a contingent effect” (Van Asselt 33).

Contingency “is the actuality of the stated act” (39). If p is contingent; p occurs, but p could otherwise not occur. For Aristotle, while he held to contingency, it was only in a temporal sense (41). In each moment “only one state of affairs occurs without any alternative.”

Scotus, on the other hand, argues that for each moment of time, “there is a true alternative for each state of affairs.”


Thesis I: Man before the Fall had truly free choice towards good as well as towards bad (Creation During a Period of Six Days, Bk 3. Chap. 3).

Zanchi defines free choice as “the free agreement of the will” (55). The agreement is that the will follows the intellect. Considered in the abstract, free choice is always free in man.  “But if we consider the powers,” it is a slave (63).

Key argument: even after sin, man always retains the choice that is natural to him (Zanchi, De primi hominis lapsu, Bk 1, ch. 6).  At the risk of anachronism, Zanchi doesn’t seem to be operating with Edwards’ moral/natural distinction.  Zanchi defines free choice as “The faculty of freely willing or not willing, anything proposed by the intellect that you will or not will” (quoted in Van Asselt, 65).

Zanchi clarifies that “the freedom of our will does not consist in that it is driven by no necessity to sinning, but in this that it is free from all coercion” (68).  Therefore, whatever “necessity” means, it cannot mean coercion.  

The will is a faculty of the soul.  All of the potencies of the soul are called faculties (74).

Following the excerpt from Zanchi, the editors give their own interpretation.


Junius expands on the necessity of the consequent angle.  For example, “If Peter walks, it is necessary he moves” (114).  Yet, Peter’s walking is a contingent act.  “This necessary implication does not make moving itself necessary.”


We do not say that the judgment of reason determines the will.  Reason simply judges the goodness or badness of the means (130).

Free choice isn’t identical to free will.  Will has to do with potency.  Arbitrium is the means to be chosen (135).


It is with Voetius that the discussion takes on new levels of sophistication.  Voetius opposes the Jesuit doctrine of “complete indifference of the will,” yet he does allow indifference of a sort.  His running argument looks like this:

1) God is the efficient cause of my will, but not the formal cause.  The formal cause refers to my natural mode of willing.  

2) In eternity there is an indifference to objects to be chosen, A, B, C.  God removes A and C from the eligible objects to be chosen. 

3) In time my will freely chooses B.  While I might have limited choice, there is nothing forcing that choice.

4) Physical premotion: God’s applied power awakens the creature’s potency to a second act..

5) Physical premotion has a structural, not temporal priority.

(3) – (5) refute the Jesuit doctrine of indifference. As my will is premoved by God, which is another way of its being anchored by the divine decree, there cannot be indifference either with God or myself.

Reframing the Structural Moments

1st Structural moment: I am able to choose objects A, B, and C. God is indifferent to all of these.

2nd Structural moment: God selects B; he is no longer indifferent.

Human involvement:

1st: I can logically choose A, B, or C in the abstract.

2nd: In my dependent freedom, I choose B.


Turretin expands Voetius to note that the “indifference of the will” renders prayer and God’s covenant promise irrelevant.  If the will is completely indifferent, it’s not clear what God could do.  Even worse, it’s not clear how God could enact his covenant promises.

Bernardinus de Moor

De Moor applies the coup de grace to Jesuitical indifference.  There cannot be a complete indifference of the will because there are several prerequisites for acting that even traditional Roman Catholics concede (and here we side with the Dominicans).  There is the decree of God, his infallible foreknowledge, and the judgment of the intelleting mind.  The last one is particularly thorny for the Jesuits.  There can’t be complete indifference because the mind is not indifferent to the perceived Good.


Coercion: physical necessity; an outward causes which forces one to do something (39).

Rational necessity: if the intellect judges something to be good, then the will must follow.

Freedom of contrariety: possibility of the will to choose this or that object (46).

In actu primo: this is the faculty of the will in the abstract.

In actu secundo: the will in particular acts.

Bottom line between in actu primo and in actu secundo: there is a structural, not temporal order between the two.


I think it is safe to say that the Reformed orthodox were not “libertarians” of any sort.  I’m not sure Van Asselt even claims that.  There is nothing here of the “Jonathan Edwards” debate (I truly hate that discussion).  While the editors probably overcook the evidence on Scotist synchronicity, their discussions remain invaluable nonetheless.


A Reformed Scholastic Reader

Bibliographies are my thing.  I haven’t read all of these, but I am in the process of doing so.  There is more to the Reformed faith than Calvin.  Calvin is good and writes better than most, but he wasn’t anything special back then. Bullinger outsold Calvin and Perkins outsold all combined.

Sadly, little of these writings were ever translated, with the result that classical Protestantism was reduced to the 5 Points.

Turretin, Francis.  Institutes of Elenctic Theology.  Start here.  Turretin teaches you how to think.

Ames, William.  Marrow.  I disagree with Ames’s voluntarism, but this was the most important theological text to make it to America.

Witsius, Herman.  Economy of the Covenants. This will guide you through issues on the Federal Vision, Kline, etc.

Clark, R. Scott.  Caspar Olevianand the Substance of the Covenant. Any doctrine that denies the inner/outer distinction of the covenant isn’t Reformed.

Rutherford, Samuel.  Trial and Triumph of Faith. Good defense of the Pactum Salutis.

Books I’ve Yet to Read

These are on my list.

Cocceius, Johannes.  Doctrine of the Covenant and testament of God.

Heidegger, Johannes. Concise Marrow of Theology.


You can’t speak on Reformed Scholasticism unless you can intelligently speak on these works.

Muller, Richard.  Post-Reformation Reformed Scholasticism.  The best work on the subject, hands down.

Preuss, Robert.  Post-Reformation Lutheranism.  The Lutheran version.

Oberman, Heiko.  The Harvest of Medieval Theology.  Look closely and you can tie in the Federal Vision.

Outline Turretin, Topic 3 (Doctrine God)

Part 1 Here.

First Question: The Existence of God

(Turretin goes through the standard pre-modern reasoning).

Third Question: The Unity of God

Turretin clarifies the question by saying God is one in the sense that there is nothing else like him.  It is a question of essential numerical unity.

Fifth Question: Can the Divine Attributes really be distinguished from the divine essence? We deny against the Socinians.

Definition: The divine attributes are the essential properties by which he makes himself known to us who are weak and those by which he is distinguished from creatures” (III.5.1). Attributes are not superadded to his essence. They are distinguished virtually and eminently (section 5ff). A virtual distinction is that which contains distinct effects

Seventh Question: The Simplicity of God: Is God most simple and free from all composition? We affirm against the Socinians.

Simple is used in two senses, either absolutely or relatively.  Absolute means not mixed with anything else. God is simple because he is not dependent.  If something is of composition, then it was composed by another (or depends on something else for its existence).

  1. Also proved from the nature of subsistence.   Persons and essence are not related as real component extremes from which a tertium quid may arise.  This would create a quaternity.
  2. Modes/subsistences only modify, they do not compose. Modes distinguish the persons but do not compose the essence.
  3. God’s relative attributes are attributes of relations, which is “to be to,” not “to be in.”

Tenth Question: The Eternity of God: Does God’s eternity exclude succession according to priority and posteriority? We affirm.

Def. = “The infinity of God in reference to duration is called eternity to which these three things are ascribed:

  1. Without beginning
  2. Without end
  3. Without succession. (experiencing past, present, future)


  1. His essence cannot admit succession.

Twelfth Question: Do all things fall under the knowledge of God, both singulars and future contingencies?

God’s intellect: the mode and object.  “The mode consists in his knowing all things perfectly, undividedly, distinctly and immutably:

  1. Perfectly: he knows all things by himself or by his essence, not by forms abstracted from things.
  2. Undividedly: He knows all things intuitively and noetically, not discursively.
  3. Distinctly:

The object of God’s knowledge is both himself and all things extrinsic to him whether possible or future (III.12.3). He knows both universal and singulars as to:

  1. Quality: good and bad
  2. Predication: universals and singulars.
  3. Time: past, present, and future.
  4. State: necessary and free or contingent.

Proof:  all things are naked and open to God (Heb. 4.13).  He knows hairs on our head. Etc.

The Real Issue: Does God Know Future Contingencies?

There are two ways a thing can be contingent: either it is produced by God (true by definition; all things contingent in this sense) or it depends on the prior causes of other contingent events.

Proof: “Lord, thou knowest all things” (John 21:17; 1 John 3:20).  Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world; God knows all his works from eternity.  All things are naked and open to his eyes (Hebrews 4). This includes future actions. God predicts future contingent things.

Things can happen necessarily as to the event (per the decree) and yet contingently as to the mode of production (section 23).

Thirteenth Question: Is there a Middle Knowledge in God between the Natural and the Free?  We deny.

God’s natural or simple knowledge: God’s knowledge of all things merely possible.  It is called indefinite. It is founded on God’s omnipotence

God’s knowledge of vision (Or free): Knowledge of future things.  Definite because fixed by his will.

Middle knowledge seeks to be about hypothetically possible things.

Statement of the question: all admit that God knows future contingencies. Is there a special decree concerning the certain futurition of this or that thing preceeds so that God may see things antecedently to such a decree. We deny.

Proofs: natural and free knowledge embraces all knowable things and entities are not be multiplied unnecessarily (sec. 9).  2) Things not true cannot be foreknown as true. 3) Such a knowledge posits a reason for predestination apart from God’s purpose and good pleasure (eudokian).

1 Sam. 23:11 no proof of MK. This is more of a revelation of “circumstances on the ground” than a hypothetical future contingency.

Fourteenth Question: The Will of God: Does God Will some things necessarily and others freely? We affirm.

There is a twofold necessity.  Absolute necessity, that which can’t be otherwise.  Hypothetical necessity, a necessity from a contingent source. There are two kinds of things willed: that which is willed to the ultimate end, and that which is willed in the relation of the means.  Therefore, we say:

“God wills himself necessarily, not only by a hypothetical necessity but also by an absolute necessity.”

Fifteenth Question: May the will be properly distinguished into the will of the decre and of precept, good purpose (eudokias) and good pleasure (euarestias), signified, secret, and revealed?  We affirm.

God’s will is simple but it may be apprehended as manifold.

  1. Decretive will: futurition and event of things; rule of God’s external acts.
  2. Preceptive will: that which we should do. It has a twofold object
  3. Will of eudokias (good purpose): that which seems good for the Father to reveal. Also our predestination.
  4. Will of euarestias:  frequently referred to the preceptive will. That which we are to conform to.

Will of sign and pleasure:

  1. Beneplacit will: answers to the decretive will.
  2. Will of sign: answers to the preceptive will.

There aren’t contrarieties between the two because they do not will the same thing in the same manner and respect (sect. 18).

Eighteenth Question: Is the Will of God the primary rule of justice? We distinguish

The will can be called the primary rule of justice extrinsically in reference to us, but not intrinsically in reference to God. In other words, some things are good because God wills them (e.g., the ceremonial laws)  God’s natural justice is antecedent to his free act of will.

Nineteenth Question: Is Vindicative Justice Natural to God?

Divine justice can be considered either absolutely in itself or relatively with respect to its exercise. Question: Does God have the right to punish?  Is this natural to God? We prove:

  1. Scripture. Ex. 34:7. Hab. 1:13. If hatred of sin is necessary to God, then penal justice is equally necessary because the hatred of sin is the constant will of punishing it.
  2. Dictates of conscience
  3. Sanction of the law
  4. Our redemption through the death of Christ.

Twenty-First Question: The Power of God?  What is the omnipotence of God and does it extend to those things which imply a contradiction? We deny.

Power of God: The divine essence productive outwardly

  1. The object of God’s power is nothing other than the possible (sect. 6).
  2. A contradictory is logically impossible.
  3. God can do contraries, but not contradictories.

Twenty-Third Question: The Holy Trinity.  What are the meanings of the terms essence, substance, subsistence, person, Trinity, etc.?

ousia/essence: the “whatness” of a thing

Substance: we do not mean in this in the sense of God’s having accidents, but rather from subsisting (through himself and in himself)

Subsistence: “marks a mode of subsistence or personality” (sect. 5).

Person: it is properly concrete and not abstract.

Property: the mode of subsisting by which this or that person is constituted (sect. 14).

Twenty-Seventh Question: Can the Divine Persons be distinguished from the essence, and from each other, and how?

They differ not essentially, but modally (sect. 3).

Outline of Turretin, Topics 1 and 2

I read through Turretin a few years ago.  Now I have time to do a more thorough study.Image result for francis turretin

On Natural Theology

It is partly innate (derived from conscience) and partly acquired (I.3).

God (and divine things) is the object of theology: he is not to be considered exclusively under the relation of deity (per Aquinas), but as he is our God (i.e., covenanted in Christ as he has revealed himself; Turretin, I.5.IV).

Purpose of reason for theology: it has a ministerial function.

  • Truth of propositions: axiomatic judgment
  • Truth of conclusions: discursus

Faith perceives the consequent, reason the consequences (I.8.11).

The Judgment of Contradiction:

  1. Reason judging: the reason in question is that which is restored and enlightened by the Holy Spirit (I.10.1).
  2. The principle from which the judgment is formed: axioms which are drawn from Scripture
  3. Rule of consequence::

Scriptural proofs for this principle: Matt. 7:15; 16:6; Col. 2:8; 1 Thess. 5:21.

In the 11th Question Turretin affirms the use of the senses.  This allows him to reject transubstantiation.

Second Topic: The Holy Scriptures

First Question: Was Verbal Revelation Necessary?  We affirm. It must also have been committed to writing because of the need to preserve and propagate the word.

  1. Although the church before Moses didn’t have the word, and the early church didn’t have all of it, it does not logically follow that the word is inferior.

Sixth Question: From what source does the divine authority of the Scriptures depend?

Turretin points out that the “authority belongs to the genus of things ek ton pros ti….[and] should not be considered absolutely but relatively.  Therefore, Scripture cannot be authentic in itself without being so for us” (II.6.3).

The Bible on its own account is the objective cause of why I believe it.  The Holy Spirit is the efficient cause. The Church is the instrumental cause.  We can give the three-fold reply on account that threefold causes can be granted for the manifestation of anything (section 6).

Twentieth Question: What is the Supreme Judge, Scripture or the Pope?

We prove it is Scripture by:

  1. God himself: he sends the judge and we must obey him (Dt 17:10). Christ says to obey and judge by Moses and the Prophets (Lk. 16:29).
  2. When Christ sends people to the church to hear, the church is not speaking of matters of faith but of scandal (Matt. 18:17).

Turretin volume 3

And so ends one of the two greatest works of Christian dogmatics. Turretin covers a number of issues that were existentially pressing for Protestants in the 17th century, both concerning salvation and persecution. From surveying the topics concerning the Church, Sacraments, and Eschaton, Turretin vindicates the calling of the Reformed ministers, the simplicity of the two sacraments, and the final hope in glory. Some highlights:

Was the Calling of the Reformers legitimate?

If ministers ought to be called, and we reject the Anabaptists who reject this, then were the Reformers legitimate ministers since they did not receive their call from an ordained ministry (in this case, the Roman Catholic Church)? Turretin makes a distinction between a church constituted and a church to be constituted (239). In a constituted church, we expect a call because we want to maintain good order. However, if we find ourselves in an area with no constituted church, granted it is an extreme example, no call is needed.

Turretin also represents the older, more robust view of the civil magistrate: Calling a Council

A godly magistrate can call a council, for magistrates are nurse-fathers to the church (Isa. 49:21-23, p. 308). Thesis: the pious and believing magistrate cannot and ought not to be excluded from all care of religion and sacred things, which has been enjoined upon him by God (316). Magistrates have a limited, not absolute sacred right.

Although the magistrate cannot compel belief, he is responsible to see that heretics are marginalized, although not executed. They can poison a nation just as thoroughly as an “external criminal.” However, Turretin makes a distinction between the ringleaders and those deceived. The latter shouldn’t really be punished. Turretin gives three propositions: Heretics can be coerced. Most heretics shouldn’t be executed. One may kill blasphemous arch-heretics (332).

Turretin gives a fine treatment on the beauty and simplicity of Reformed sacraments. Sign and thing signified: the sign is external and sensible (339). The signified thing is heavenly and invisible, in the soul, and communicated in a spiritual mode. The Form: analogy of relation (schesi). The thing promised is represented to our minds. There is a union between the sign and thing signified.

This is not easy reading but it is indispensable. We judge that Turretin should be a lifelong companion

Turretin vol. 2, review

Turretin, Francis.  Institutes of Elenctic Theology vol 2.

Hard to know where to start. Turretin is simply majestic. He was the greatest Reformed theologian of all time. Ideally, this review would give an indepth analysis of all of Turretin’s key points. Sadly, such a review would span many pages. Instead, I’ll give a brief outline of the loci and focus on his high points.

He begins with an exposition of the Ten Commandments. Of particular importance are his takes on the 2nd and 7th Commandments. He then moves into the Covenant of Grace. I thought this section could have been fleshed out more. Perhaps that is where Witsius comes in. He then moves to the Person of Christ and this is where he shines. He mightily vindicates the Reformed Christology, presupposing the “finiti non capax infinitum.” From here he moves to the Offices of Christ. THis is in particular contrast to the Socinians. There is a very strong section on the Priestly office of Christ.

From there he moves to Calling and Faith. He gives a rather thorough, if somewhat laborious, justification of effectual calling. I think his later disciple Charles Hodge did a better job of summarizing this. The section on justification was particularly good.

The book is not perfect, but it comes very close. There are about 7 to 10 areas with which I disagree with Turretin, but that’s only natural.

Turretin on the civil magistrate

A godly magistrate can call a council, for magistrates are nurse-fathers to the church (Isa. 49:21-23, p. 308).

On The Civil Magistrate

Thirty Fourth Question:  What is the right of the Christian magistrate about sacred things, and does the care and recognition of religion belong in any way to him?  We affirm.

  1. Thesis: the pious and believing magistrate cannot and ought not to be excluded from all care of religion and sacred things, which has been enjoined upon him by God (316)
    1. “A multiple right concerning sacred things.”
    2. Isaiah 49.23 calls him a “nursing father” to the church.
    3. Magistrates are called “gods” (Ps. 82.6).
    4. Natural law argument: to him is commended the safety of the commonwealth and all things pertaining to it, which includes religion.
  2. Explanation: While magistrates may not usurp the calling of preachers, they may still discharge the duties of their own office.
    1. As ministers may not draw the sword, so magistrates may not take the keys of the kingdom.
    2. Jesus told kings to “Kiss the Son” (Ps 2).
  3. Magistrates have a limited, not absolute sacred right.
    1. Stated negatively
      1. He cannot make new articles of faith.
      2. He cannot preach or administer the sacraments.
      3. He cannot exercise church discipline
    2. Stated positively
      1. Establish sacred doctrine in the state and reform it when it falls, as per Asa, Josiah, etc.
      2. Protect the church, restrain heretics, promote the glory of God.
      3. Open and encourage schools (320).
      4. Convene councils
  4. Political power is occupied with a thing either directly and immediately, or indirectly, mediately, and consequently..
    1. In the former, it is concerned with the external man.
    2. In the latter, with spiritual.
    3. If the title “Head of the Church” is applied to the magistrate, then it can only be applied in an external, defensive way (322).
  5. Can he compel to faith? (323ff)
    1. “No one ought to be forced to faith.”
  6. What about heretics?
    1. Heretics should be punished, but not capitally (327ff).
    2. They can poison a nation just as thoroughly as an “external criminal.”  However, Turretin makes a distinction between the ringleaders and those deceived.  The latter shouldn’t really be punished.
    3. Turretin gives three propositions:
      1. Heretics can be coerced.
      2. Most heretics shouldn’t be executed.
      3. One may kill blasphemous arch-heretics (332).

Turretin vs. Doug Wilson on Calling

I do not know if Wilson has since gotten a legitimate calling and ordination from an established church body.  But he explains in his own words.  (I thank Rachel Miller for finding this.

I also recommend this post by Rev. Lane Keister.

Having written this book, I must now apologize, at least in part, for how the book came to be written by someone like, as the Victorians used to say, the present writer. At the time of writing, I have been a minister of the Word for twenty-three years. But how that came about contains more than a few ecclesiastical irregularities.

I came to the University of Idaho in the fall of 1975, fresh out of the Navy, and ready to study philosophy. My intention was to study various unbelieving philosophies and to then get involved in some kind of evangelistic literature ministry in a university town somewhere. Right around the same time, a church was being planted in our town by an Evangelical Free Church in a nearby community. The fellowship was successfully planted, but this new church never affiliated with the Free Church. This was not due to any doctrinal or personal differences; it was due mostly to the fact that it was the seventies. I was at the organizing meeting for this church and wound up as one of the guitar-playing songleaders. The best way to describe this would be to say that it was some kind of “Jesus people” operation.

After about a year and a half of meeting, the man who had been doing the preaching (ordained by a Baptist denomination) announced that he had gotten a job elsewhere and that he was moving. We were on our own the following Sunday. As I said, it was the seventies. The idea of going into pastoral ministry had not occurred to me, but when it did, I didn’t like it very much. Nevertheless, as things turned out, I was up in front with the guitar. That was my call to the ministry; I knew all the chords. I began to preach.

Our church had been planted by an established denomination, but we had no constitution, no doctrinal standards, no established leadership. I started what we called a “responsible brothers” meeting to fill the void of leadership — ad hoc elders. We knew from the Scriptures that we needed to be governed by elders, but we didn’t have any. We received some teaching on elder qualifications from the pastor of the Evangelical Free church that had established our church, and as a result different men among the responsible brothers removed themselves from consideration. In this situation, I presented myself to the congregation and asked them to bring forward any objections to my holding office of elder within the next few weeks. If no one did, then I would assume the office. As it turned out, no one did, and I have been working with this congregation of faithful and longsuffering saints ever since.

All this, as I said earlier, was highly irregular, and I would rather be dead in a ditch than to go back to that way of doing ecclesiastical business. . . . (Douglas Wilson, Mother Kirk [Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2001] 267–268)

To be fair to Wilson, a calling is not a necessary condition for a true church. However, as Francis Turretin notes, if one doesn’t have a proper call from a true church (word, sacraments, discipline), then that is because there is no true church from which to receive a call.

Was the Calling of the Reformers legitimate?

If ministers ought to be called, and we reject the Anabaptists who reject this, then were the Reformers legitimate ministers since they did not receive their call from an ordained ministry (in this case, the Roman Catholic Church)?  Turretin makes a distinction between a church constituted and a church to be constituted (III: 239).  In a constituted church, we expect a call because we want to maintain good order.  However, if we find ourselves in an area with no constituted church, granted it is an extreme example, no call is needed.

Here is the problem for Doug Wilson fans:  were there no true churches?  Were there no Reformed churches?  What was wrong with joining the OPC or PCA, both of whom had witnesses in that area of America?  If Presbyterian government is true, and I think it is, and it is really important, as I think it is, then surely there is no harm in seeking out proper order.

For Turretin the only way to justify this situation is that there are no other witnesses around.  In other words, all of the other churches are fornicating, preaching false doctrine, and openly persecuting the true faith with the sword.  Obviously, this wasn’t the case in the Pacific Northwest.

Therefore, I cannot in good conscience call Wilson a pastor, nor can I affirm that Christ Kirk (Moscow) is a true church.  At best it is an irregular gathering.

Turretin on celibacy and Rev 14

No one could learn that song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. It is these who have not defiled themselves with women, for they are virgins

FT offers the standard arguments against priestly celibacy, but he does focus on the objection from Rev 14:4, of the virgins who weren’t defiled with women.  Turretin notes this cannot mean physical virgins for the following reasons:

  1. This would imply that marriage is a pollution, which contradicts Heb. 13:4
  2. This would imply that only the unmarried are saved.
  3. Thus, ruling out several apostles, patriarchs, and quite a few popes (III: 258)!

Turretin vol 1, Review

Recent (that is, pre-1992 A.D.) Reformed theology can be sadly described as a generation arising “which knew not Turretin.” To paraphrase Galadriel in The Fellowship of the Ring: Some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. Turretin’s categorical form of argumentation was one of those “things.” Turretin’s strength is in identifying precisely the issue in question. This allows him to accept and acknowledge points of agreement with his opponents,rather than simply seeing everything as “Arminian.” Recent Reformed (and Arminian-Rome) polemics have all focused on a few issues: predestination, free will, assurance, the Canon, etc.

Turretin understood that there were other issues, too: anthropology, middle knowledge, etc. which also need to be addressed. The English translation of Turretin fills a woeful lacuna.


While it might be anachronistic to label Turretin’s epistemology as “Common Sense Realism,” one can see similarities. Reason is not ultimate, but it is a reliable guide not only in matters of “nature” but also in “grace.” In using reason in theology, Turretin distinguishes between two extremes. Unlike the a-rationalists (Anabaptists, Lutherans, Eastern Orthodox), reason can function as a principium in theology. It is not the fundamental principia upon which all theology rests (that is the principium essendi); rather, it is an instrumental principle (I: 24).

Turretin does ascribe a functional role to “natural reason.” Natural man, whatever that phrase means, can understand axiomatic truths (29-30). Reason is of particular instrumental use in terms of inference and middle premises. For example, Christ’s ubiquity denied in the following way: “Besides, while the theologian uses arguments drawn from reason, he does it rather as a philosopher rather than as a theologian. As to the ubiquity of the body of Christ, we reject this doctrine both philosophically and theologically, because it is absurd and contradicts the first principles of theology and philosophy.” In other words, the definition of a human nature is that it isn’t ubiquitously extended into space. The Lutheran (and EO) view of the communicatio extends it ubiquitously in space. Therefore, such view is wrong.

Turretin explains:[T]he middle term [in the theological syllogism] is not taken from reason, but scripture…For example, I deny that the glorified body of Christ is everywhere, having taken from Scripture this mean, that it is a real body” (26-27)

Canon and Scripture

So did the Church create the canon? If so, doesn’t that mean the church has authority over the canon? Turretin meets this challenge head-on and notes, given what everyone accepts about principia, proves that the Protestant position is the only feasible one. If the Scriptures come primarily from God—as all must concede—then they bear God’s authority. If they bear God’s authority, then they get their primary authentication from God (85ff). That the church was instrumental in delivering aspects of a canon (I still dispute that the church gave a neat canon) no one denies. That is precisely the point: the church was instrumental, not original. Only the Protestant doctrine of magisterial and ministerial authority can make sense of this point.

Decrees of God

God’s Foreknowledge of Future Contingencies:

Middle Knowledge: God’s foreknowledge about future contingent events whose truth depend not on God’s free decree (being anterior to this), but upon the liberty of the creature (which God certainly foresees). As Turretin clarifies, Whether besides the natural knowledge of God (which is only of things possible) there is in God a middle knowledge of men and angels where he knows what they may without a special decree preceding (I: 214).

Turretin responds: things not true cannot be foreknown as true. Now, conditional future things are not true apart from the determination of the divine will; for example, the Sidonians would have repented if the powers had been supplied to them, for they would have been indifferently disposed in their nature to repend or not repent, those powers being given. ..No effect can be understood as future without the divine decree, so no future conditional can be knowable before the decree.
Again, knowledge either makes the event certain or foresees it as certain…
A thing may be contingent in two ways:
• by depending on God as first cause (as all of creation is thus contingent, since God didn’t have to create)
• by depending on prior second causes (which produce or not produce their effects).
Turretin is speaking of these contingents.

A future contingent implies both certainty of event and mode of production. As future it is certain, but as contingent in its mode of production. It has the former from the decree of the First Cause, the latter from the constitution of the second cause. The mode of production is clarified by the Westminster Confession of Faith V.2: It identifies God as the First Cause, corresponding with the first point made by Turretin, but notes that the First Cause orders the events to happen in three modes: freely, necessarily, or contingently.
An event can be both infallibly certain yet contingent. Thus, all things take place by the necessity of consequence, not the necessity of the consequent. Turretin notes that man’s actions can be free because they are spontaneous and follow rational judgment, but necessary because of God’s decree (I: 211).

Free Will

(Turretin, I: 502). God does not compel rational creatures to act by a physical necessity, he only effects this–that they act both consistently with themselves and with their own natures (508). This necessity is one of consequence–it secures the action and result of a cause. It is necessary according to the eternal premotion of God, but it is spontaneous according to the mode of acting (509). The premotion does not take away the mode proper to the nature of things.
For example, the harp player is the cause of music, but not of the dissonance plucked from the strings. Quoting Alvarez, “It does not follow that God is the cause of sin because he determines to the act; because the deformity follows the act, not as in the genus of nature, but as it is in the genus of morals and as it is caused by the free will (510). Relating the concourse of God and the free will of man 1. The concourse of providence and the human will is not of collateral and equal causes, but of unequal and subordinate (512). This follows on anyone’s gloss since God is by definition the First Cause.

2. God moves secondary causes according to their nature and mode. Thus, it is necessary according to the source (as coming from the First Cause), but free as to the mode. 3. Absolute liberty belongs to God; dependent liberty belongs to the creature. “The subject of free will is neither the intellect, nor the will, but both faculties conjointly” (I: 660). Here Turretin examines the Scholastic problem of the priority between intellect and will. Viewed in different lights either one can work. Practically speaking, people do not separate these two in their actings so we can speak of them together.

Turretin gives his famous discussion concerning the “necessity of necessity.” Non-Reformed positions, while prating long about free will, rarely interact with the hard questions it raises. Only the Reformed position does justice to both necessity and liberty. “Choice” belongs to the intellect; …

The will is determined by God with respect to decree but only in a concursive sense (God determines the actions but leaves the modes of acting free). We deny indifference of will but affirm rational spontaneity (665). Concourse and concurrence: When God and man’s will overlap. The question is how may we best explain man having liberty while being under the control of God’s providence? Turretin follows Aquinas: second causes are predetermined by God; When the free will moves itself, this does not exclude its being moved by another, from whom it receives the very power to move itself (ST, 1, Q. 83, Art. 1)
1. God gives second causes the strength and faculty to act
2. God keeps and sustains them in being and vigor.
3. He excites and applies second causes to acting
4. He determines them to acting
5. he rules them to accomplish the ends.

Anthropology and Sin

Original Sin: Those who deny original sin have to explain why death is prevalent even among infants and imbeciles. Romans says the wages of sin is death. If the curse of death is universal, it necessarily follows that the wages of sin is universal. Yet, how can they be held accountable for sin before the giving of the law (Romans 5:12-13)? Only something like the Covenant of Works can really answer this question. Yes, the curse of death is imputed to us (as our Eastern friends tell us). Yes, death is the enemy. But as Paul makes clear, how can there be death without the wages of sin?

Rome and the Superadditum

Rome, pace Bellarmine (“De Gratia prime hominis,” 5, 6 in Opera [1858], 4:23-29, quoted in Turretin, I:471), viewed in natural man a contest between flesh and spirit, and God’s superadded gift is like a “golden bridle” to reign in the flesh. By contrast, Turretin notes that if original righteousness were an added gift, then man’s nature would have been inherently lacking. Rome places concupiscence before the fall; Protestants place it after the fall. At this point Rome cannot escape the age-old stereotype that it views matter as “not quite bad.” If concupiscence is natural to man’s created state before the fall, then ultimately man’s problem isn’t sin but finitude. The inevitable conclusion is that God made man’s very matter one of disorder (472). Protestants do believe in concupiscence, though. We see it as an inclination to sin after the fall. Still, we reject a positive principal of sin in the human nature. This rejection, plain and simple, precludes any possibility of a so-called Manicheanism.

If Reformed seminaries are not teaching through this book, then their students will not be prepared to face challenges from Rome and neo-Socinians.  I seend it with my own eyes at RTS.