Monday, August 10, 2015

Warfield on the WCF and the "Author of Sin"

When the [Westminster] Confession was written as well as now, there were men who were accustomed to asseverate that to affirm that God had freely and unchangeably ordained whatsoever comes to pass were to declare God the sole cause operative in the universe, to destroy the freedom of the human will, and indeed the reality of all second causes, ... Accordingly, the Confession adds the caveat, that God's foreordination does not make him the author of sin, nor offer violence to the will of the creature, nor take away (but rather establish) the liberty of contingency of second causes. In other words, the Confession guards it readers against being misled into supposing that the divine government of the universe according to an eternal plan excludes the administration of that government through instruments; and protects the reality and real efficiency of all second causes, free and necessary alike, while affirming the reality and real efficiency of the first cause as the determiner of the course of events in accordance with the primal plan. [B.B. Warfield, "The Confessional Doctrine of the Decree," in Selected Shorter Writings (ed. by John E. Meeter; Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 1970), 1:98-99]

According to Warfield, the rejection by the Westminster Confession of God being the "Author of Sin" is meant to reject the view that God is the "sole cause operative in the universe." Also, the insertion of the predicate adjective "reality" to the nominative phrase "second causes" shows that those second causes are to be regarded as actually and truly operative, not just an appearance or occasion for the actual cause, hiding behind the "second cause," to work. The first cause, God, is indeed the determiner of the course of events, but it is determined without the rejection of the real legitimacy of free and necessary creaturely causes.

Any position therefore that claims God as the Author of Sin in the rejection of the true ontological reality of second causes is contrary to the Westminster Confession and contrary to the Reformed faith, regardless of how one wishes to define the word "author." To claim God as the "Author of Sin" in the conceptual form (regardless of terminology used) as articulated and rejected by the Westminster Standards, is to reject the Reformed and catholic view concerning the nature and the decree of God.


Anonymous said...

Personally, I find theistic determinism as toxic as materialistic determinism. Both logically extinguish free will.

I take comfort in the subtle difference between the chapters three of the Westminster Confession and the Baptist Confession of 1689. It is immensely subtle. I hope somebody else will quote both, side by side, and explain for me.

The antecedents of the Church of Scotland, with whom the Russian Orthodox Church has broken off relations over same sex marriage, were determinists. If something happened, well it simply had always to be something God decided would happen, from the beginning.

The Baptists left permission for God to shut those theological eyes of His, that could foresee the future if He so chose, lest He thus determined the future immutably, and negated free will. Everything the Lord decided would happen, His zeal would accomplish, but that need not add up to everything that happened. Read the 1689 confession if you doubt me.

I am comfortable with my worldview that is far less determinstic than the view of the Presbyterians, the view that that the Baptists expressed, whether they realised it or not. My reformed baptist God is more sovereign than the Presyterian God, not less so.

Anybody alarmed or distressed that I take such a view is free (or not, as the case may be) to console themselves that, however distressing my libertarianism may be to them, it was something that was boudn to happen (or not, as the case may be).

hanguoxiong said...

Dear John,

Thanks for your comments. Could explain to me what "all things" mean in section 1, chapter 3, of the 1689 LBCF? I have pasted quote below.

"God hath decreed in himself, from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably, all things, whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby is God neither the author of sin nor hath fellowship with any therein; nor is violence offered to the will of the creature, nor yet is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established; in which appears his wisdom in disposing all things, and power and faithfulness in accomplishing his decree."


Gregory S. Gill said...

>"Any position therefore that claims God as the Author of Sin ...regardless of how one wishes to define the word "author.""

That's at best a very strange thing to say. The term "Author" means a number of things, for example:

a person who starts or creates something (such as a plan or idea).

one that originates or creates

the maker of anything; creator; originator.

3. An originator or creator, as of a theory or plan.
4. Author God.

Since "God hath decreed in himself, from all eternity, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably, all things, whatsoever comes to pass" which include sin and evil then how can God not be said to be in that narrow sense only to be the Author of Sin? Without sin been decreed by God and God bringing all His decrees to pass be it in a direct or indirect way by His superintending there would be no evil or sin.

If God decreed sin then how does sin not have its origin in God's decree? So if sin has its origin in God's decree then how in that narrow sense only, God is not the Author of sin?

PuritanReformed said...


what is the problem with "extinguishing" free will? What exactly is "free will"?

If determinism in any form is wrong as you suggest, does this not suggest that there are some things that God does not control, namely human "free will" choices? But if these are always indeterminate, then how can we say that the crucifixion was God's plan, as Acts 2:23 tells us, since anyone from Pilate to the chief priests could always use their "free wills" and not crucify Christ? Was the crucifixion always a matter of God waiting with bated breath to see whether Pilate and the chief priests would do the sinful thing to put Jesus to death, or whether they would be righteous and thus foil God's plan of salvation?

Also, where exactly is the LBCF less "deterministic" than the WCF?

PuritanReformed said...


you are confusing categories. The phrase "author of sin" has two components: (1) form and (2) meaning.

On form, that is what I mean when I say how the term is defined is unimportant. One can use the form "author of sin" and by that mean something biblical, or one can use the form "author of sin" and by that mean something heretical. I recognize that Cheung defines "author of sin" is a way that is not unbiblical. But on the issue of form, forms have established usage in the church. It is plainly ridiculous for everyone to create their own meaning and say, "I believe in X (some ancient heretical phrase), and by 'X' I mean 'Y' (orthodox doctrine)." To someone who intentionally and recklessly use phrases and forms that are historically rejected by the Church is needlessly provocative at best.

On content, that is the issue I have with Cheung. Cheung does not use the phrase "author of sin" to mean something heretical, BUT in his development of what he means by the phrase "author of sin" he essentially espouses the CONTENT which historically denotes the phrase "author of sin." So Cheung's usage of the form "author of sin" is provocative but not unbiblical, BUT Cheung's understanding of the phrase "author of sin" shows that he does hold to the concepts that historically are summed up in the phrase "author of sin." Therefore, Cheung contradicts the Confession on this point.

Your questions on causation continue to suffer from the same problems as what I mentioned in my article on Cheung's error. You persistently refuse to recognize that second causes are just as legitimate, positing a false dichotomy between only direct causes, and no causes.

steve said...


You can't determine what "author" means in 17C theological usage by consulting 21C English dictionaries. It's a question of what period usage means. I believe Reformed theologians were using "author" in the Latin sense of agent or doer. To deny that God is the "author" of sin means, according to period usage, that God isn't the primary agent. He's not the one who commits sin.

That dovetails with Daniel's defense of second causes and repudiation of occasionalism.

PuritanReformed said...

To be fair, Cheung does affirm that God is not the "author" if by that it means "the one who commits sin." However, because of his occasionalism, that point is rendered rather irrelevant since God directly makes someone sin.