Perkins, the Patriarch of Puritan Predestination

Section II: Theology Proper (Study of God)
Chapter 7 - William Perkins on Predestination

Perkins produced a classic on this topic, "A Golden Chain" (1591).

Supra-lapsarians say God decreed who would be saved before the creation and fall of man.  Infra-lapsarians say God couldn't decree not to save anyone before they were guilty.  Perkins was a supra- guy.  Two objections: doesn't predestination make God the author of sin?  Perkins said there's a difference between God's decree being infallible and it being compulsory.  We are still responsible for our sin.  Second objection: doesn't predestination make Jesus just the agent of a decree, like the guy who serves you papers to your house from a court?  No, Christ is the point of our election.  The Father wanted to glorify the Son in His choosing us to be saved in Him.

Golden Chain
Christ is the center and foundation of God's decree of election, in Perkins' golden chain.
The decrees are carried out in history with covenants.  God binds Himself to man with promises, requiring faith and obedience of us.  These He graciously gives us.  Faith and repentance are the result of God electing us, not the cause of His election.  So the covenant is mostly about us receiving gifts from God that we need.  

Salvation comes in "distinct steps from sin to glory.  This is the order of salvation, the golden chain, from Romans 8:30.  God calls us by His Word so our hearts are broken in repentance and we believe in Christ.  God justifies us on the basis of Christs work, pardoning us and reconciling with us.  God sanctifies us by putting our sins to death and making us more like Christ in our affections and behavior.  God glorifies us on the last day, when we see God and become fully conformed to the image of Christ.

God also determines not to save those He doesn't choose for glory.  This is not arbitrary, but based on their own sins, which deserve damnation.  Some may be called by God and even experience a temporary faith and pseudo-penitence, tasting the gifts of God, but they ultimately come into their full sins with those never called.  [God never calls some?  I thought everyone suppressed the truth within them.]  God delights to save, but does not delight to damn, though both bring Him glory.  When you are stuck in sin and find it hard to believe, you shouldn't take it as a sign you are decreed and destined to be damned.


THis is God's main instrument to apply the decrees and covenants to men.  We preach the Gospel to all men, as anyone may possibly be elect.  Where preaching is faithful, "the Spirit of the electing God speaks" (130).

Perkins was both scholastic and pietist.  He was the peak of Puritanism.
Some say predestination undercuts assurance and pursuing righteousness.
But it is taught in God's Word, it comforts God's people, and motivates them by gratitude for all God has done for us by His grace.

This chapter gives me mixed feelings.  The straight-up assertion of God's sovereignty in our salvation is refreshing.  They deal as well with objections as is possible in a short chapter.  Perkins doesn't come off as overly scholastic (rigid steps of the golden chain, for instance), though this may be the authors tempering that for us.

The problem of assurance is raised but left unanswered.  "If reprobates can also behave in ways that seem motivated by grace, how can I know whether I am a child of God?" (129)  This is something I've heard from a few independent sources remains a problem for those in scholastic Reformed churches.  The short answer is simply to look to Christ and believe, not to take primary comfort in God's decrees, or in how well we are behaving, but mainly in His promises extended to us at the cross and empty tomb.  

No comments:

Post a Comment