Francis Turretin: Prince of the Reformed Scholastics (Vol. 1)

Francis Turretin:

Prince of the Reformed Scholastics

Being an Interaction with the Text of

Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Volume One

Reformed Orthobilly

For Systematic Theology I, Master of Divinity Program

The North American Reformed Seminary

January 21st in the Year of Our Lord 2012

Francis Turretin has been described as the prince of scholastic Calvinism, and is sometimes even identified with Protestant scholasticism as a whole. Turretin’s Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Volume One1 is a treasure house of theological riches, and demonstrates that these descriptions are well deserved. The goal of an elenctic theology is to demonstrate and assert the truth of sound doctrine in refutation of false doctrines, as the Greek term lšgcw2 implies. Yet the piety, learning, passion and wisdom of Turretin were such that he turned even the most controversial and difficult of topics to good and edifying ends. What may otherwise have seemed like a dry and somewhat cranky task of refuting all opponents of the Reformed faith was transformed into a spiritual feast for the soul.

Volume One of the Institutes covers ten topics: theology, the Holy Scriptures, the One and Triune God, the decrees of God and predestination, creation, providence, angels, man’s state before the fall and the covenant of nature, sin, and free will in the state of sin. In reading the Institutes, I collected quotations from these topics, and will treat each topic separately, interacting with quotations I consider to be useful or edifying.

The first topic in the Institutes is theology itself. Turretin covers such basic matters as whether or not the word “theology” has a legitimate use among Christians, the relationship between theology and philosophy, the use of reason in theology, and a host of other engaging discussions. For example, Turretin discusses the unity of theology, though it may be contemplated in various ways:

It is one thing for theology to be one as to substance and kind of doctrine; quite another to be one as to manner of treatment. In the latter sense, it can be called ‘multiple’ according to the various modes of teaching (paideias tropon). Thus it is divided into didactic, problematic, elenctic, casuistic, etc. But in the former sense it neither is nor can be multiplex because it always contains one and the same kind of doctrine.3

Thus Turretin helps to ground and bolster the student of theology in the truth, by burying the adversaries’ objections before the student even hears of them. God is One, and therefore, so is the science which discourses about Him.

Not only is theology one, but there is also a natural theology. Though this natural theology is insufficient for salvation, it is part and parcel of God’s revelation to all men. In refuting Socinius’ notion that there is no natural theology, but only traditions handed down, Turretin states that the “orthodox, on the contrary, uniformly teach that there is a natural theology, partly innate (derived from the book of conscience by means of common notions [koinas ennoias]) and partly acquired (drawn from the book of creatures discursively).”4 Turretin goes on to argue this case from the function of conscience in Romans 2:14-15, rightly demonstrating that conscience is inexplicable without a sense of deity in all men, and the knowledge that He punishes evil and rewards good.

Nevertheless, this natural theology, though sufficient for condemnation, saves no one:

(1) There can be no saving religion without Christ and faith in him (Jn. 3:16; 17:3; Acts 4:11, 12; 1 Cor. 3:11; Heb. 11:6). But Christ is revealed nowhere except in the gospel; nor is faith given without the word, since it comes by hearing (Rom. 10:17)… (2) The state of the Gentiles and all those destitute of the word of Christ is called the ‘time of ignorance’ (Acts 17:30), when God as it were winked at them, suffering them to walk in their own ways (Acts 14:16), and when they worshipped the unknown God (Acts 17:23) and were without God (Eph. 2:12) in the world (which could not be said if the natural revelation was sufficient for salvation).5

Turretin was able to recognize the legitimate use of natural theology, but was sufficiently guarded from carrying this use to excess. Man is guilty before God because of natural theology, and polluted by sin, so as to make natural theology incapable of saving him.

In addition to the substance of theology, Turretin discusses the method of theological science. For instance, on the one hand, Turretin contrasts the Reformed use of reason and its principles in theological controversies with the Lutheran, Romish and Anabaptist deprecation of reason; on the other hand, Turretin contrasts the Socinian’s over reliance on reason. In defense of sanctified reason, Turretin asserts:

XII. Although we allow the judgment of discretion to reason enlightened by the Holy Spirit, we do not by this constitute ourselves the ultimate arbiters and judges in controversies of faith or take away from Scripture the supreme and decisive judgment (for these are subordinate, not contrary). Reason in this sense always judges according to Scripture as the first and infallible standard.

XIII. Because the mysteries of faith surpass the comprehension of reason, it follows that it should not be used as the first principle and foundation for exhibiting the truth of axioms of faith. But it does not follow that it cannot be used to exhibit the truth or falsity of conclusions in controversies of faith.6

Thus, the theological task is neither rationalistic, nor ¢lÒgoj. In Reformed orthodoxy, reason is neither the theologian’s master, nor his neglected servant. Rather, as Turretin brilliantly demonstrates, reason is a faithful servant when submitted to the Holy Spirit speaking in Scripture. This is not a “mixture of philosophy with theology and of human with divine things,” since reason does not provide the foundation for faith, but merely acts as an instrument of knowledge.7

By contrast, ¢lÒgoi heretics have refused consent to orthodoxy by denying the use of logical deduction from Scripture:

The practice of heretics, who the better to defend their errors against the orthodox, have entirely repudiated the use of consequences. The Arians denied the homoousion just because it was not contained in Scripture in so many words (autolexei). Hence they are called ‘syllable-catchers’ by Basil. Gregory Nazianzus calls the contender against the divinity of the Holy Spirit who uses this artifice, an A.B.C. Sophist and a pettifogger of words.8

The Reformed acknowledge the legitimacy of reason as a tool, but deny it mastery. This is the only haven for the assaults of modern irrationality and semi-modern rationalism.

Reformed orthodoxy not only permits the use of logical deduction, but also the discrete use of theological terms, as need requires. Turretin asserts that “it is lawful (under the exigency of some weighty reason) to enunciate inwritten (engrapha) doctrines by unwritten (agraphois) words for the plainer explication of the truth and the more complete refutation of errors.”9 An errorist may employ the language of the Bible in order to reject the teaching of the Bible, and therefore, the Reformed do not quibble over the use of theological terms, if used with good cause. Turretin confirms this point with a powerful statement by Aquinas: “’The necessity of disputing with heretics compelled them [the orthodox] to invent new terms expressing the ancient faith’ (ST, I, Q. 29, Art. 3, p. 158).”10

With the foundation firmly set, and the theological task fully justified, Turretin then storms the gates of the enemies of Sacred Scripture in his second topic, Holy Scripture. One major enemy is the objection that a written revelation (Scripture) is not necessary. “As the word of God is the sole principle of theology, so the question concerning its necessity deservedly comes before all things.”11 If the disciples of Christ may utilize theology, their task must proceed according to a fixed standard; that standard is Scripture. The adversaries claim that “there is sufficient assistance in human reason to enable us to live well and happily,”12 and therefore, such consider a necessary revelation from God to be needless and ridiculous. Hence, the pious must be armed against this scoffing, and recognize that man cannot glorify and enjoy God without God’s appointed rule: the Word of God.

Turretin skillfully reinforces the necessity of Scripture from the writings of the Fathers:

Jerome says, ‘That which does not have authority from the Scriptures, we can as easily despise as approve’ (Commentariorum in Evangelium Matthaei [PL 26.180] on Mt. 23:35, 36). Augustine says, ‘In the things openly declared in the Scriptures, we can find whatever is necessary for faith and practice’ (CI 2.9* [FC 2:72; PL 34.42]). Basil says, ‘It is a proof of unbelief and a sign of pride either to weaken any of those things which are written or to introduce what is not written’ (cf. Concerning Faith [FC 9.58-59; PG 31.678-79]).13

These citations suffice to demonstrate Turretin’s contention that the orthodox church has always maintained “the revelation of the word of God to man to be absolutely and simply necessary for salvation.”14

The enemies of our salvation also use more subtle means, claiming that a verbal revelation may be necessary in the abstract, but in the concrete, the Bible is not free from errors:

The prophets did not fall into mistakes in those things which they wrote as inspired men (theopneustōs) and as prophets, not even in the smallest particulars; otherwise faith in the whole of Scripture would be rendered doubtful.15

Thus, not even the smallest particulars can be subject to doubt, or else our entire faith would be rendered worse than worthless. This is nothing less than the doctrine of our Lord Jesus Christ and His Apostles:

The Scriptures are inspired of God (theopneustos, 2 Tim. 3:16). The word of God cannot lie (Ps. 19:8, 9; Heb. 6:18); cannot pass away and be destroyed (Mt. 5:18); shall endure forever (1 Pet. 1:25); and is truth itself (Jn. 17:17). For how could such things be predicated of it, if it contained dangerous contradictions, and if God suffered either the sacred writers to err and to slip in memory, or incurable blemishes to creep into it?16

Turretin also spends several pages refuting the false notion that Scripture contains contradictions. Since Scripture is God’s inspired word, and God cannot err, any supposed contradictions are apparent, not real. The law of contradiction requires that we evaluate any proposition in its various aspects. For instance, Paul and James are not discoursing on the same topic, though using the same word, justification. Moreover, “Luke enjoins, ‘Be ye merciful’ (Lk. 6:36) which Deuteronomy forbids, ‘Thou shalt not pity’ (Dt. 19:13). The former refers to private persons, the latter to magistrates.”17 Though men catch at syllables and think they are wise, yet God’s truth is unassailed as Turretin demonstrates text after text.18

Turretin also manfully opposes the papists regarding the purity and exclusivity of the canon. Papists seek to weaken the credibility of the Hebrew and Greek autographs of Scripture to bolster the authority of the Vulgate. Moreover, they sought to confuse the canon in order to introduce apocryphal books. Since God’s word is the only rule of faith and practice, papists needed other sources to bolster their vain traditions as well.

Regarding the purity of the sources, Turretin points out that God’s providence could never permit for His word to perish:

The providence of God which could not permit books which it willed to be written by inspiration (theopneustois) for the salvation of men (and to continue unto the end of the world that they might draw from them waters of salvation) to become so corrupted as to render them unfit for this purpose.19

Neither the wisdom nor providence of God could permit such fatal failures to corrupt His word. Yet the partisan zeal of the papists blinds them to the impiety of their dogma.

Likewise, the notion that the canon of Scripture is incomplete by the loss of books is refuted soundly. The canon is complete, as witness Christ our Lord and His Apostles:

Proof is derived: (1) from the testimony of Christ‘it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail’ (Lk. 16:17; cf. Mt. 5:18). But if not even one tittle (or the smallest letters) could fail, how could several canonical books perish?… (2) From the declaration of Luke and Paul: neither could Luke have made mention of all the prophets and of all the Scriptures (Lk. 24:27), if any portions of them had perished; nor could Paul have asserted that ‘whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning’ (Rom. 15:4), unless they supposed that all the writings of the Old Testament existed.20

Thus, a complete and perfect canon leaves no room for unwritten traditions or apocryphal writings, much to the shame of the anti-christian adversaries.

Turretin’s third topic is the One and Triune God: His existence, simplicity, triunity, infinity, justice, and other attributes. Echoing Aristotle, Turretin says that the existence of God is such an indubitable first principle of religion that it is rather to be assumed than proven, and those who doubt it are to be punished rather than disputed with.21 Yet, to confirm the faithful and silence gainsayers, Turretin tenders proofs for the existence of God. Among these proofs Turretin names the function and terrors of conscience:

Whence those terrors of conscience, trembling at more atrocious wickedness, unless from the sense of some avenger and judge whom, not seeing, it everywhere feels? For these terrors cannot arise from any fear of civil laws or any temporal punishment or disgraceboth because these are only feared in the case of open crimes.22

God has left his fingerprints all over the human soul, especially in man’s conscience, and this is one very strong proof of His existence.

One very surprising proof that Turretin offers is the quandary posed in Psalm 73: why do the wicked prosper and the pious suffer?

The prosperity of the wicked and the adversity of the pious exhibit a most wise dispensation which converts all these to its own glory and the salvation of the pious. But this ought not to weaken our faith in deity. Indeed they confirm the truth of a final judgment after this life where each one will receive a reward according to his faith and works.23

Thus, rather than shaking our faith, the delay of God’s judgment and the lack of poetic justice in this life demonstrates the faithful judgment of God at the end of time, and grants us abundance of comfort in our adversities. Moreover, God’s existence, wisdom, power and justice are hereby reaffirmed for the pious.

Under this topic, Turretin likewise excellently demonstrates the omnipotence, immutability, impassibility, eternity, wisdom, infinity, simplicity, trinity, and justice of God, among other doctrines. However, due to space constraints, I will only touch on his treatment of divine justice. The historical context for the question of the justice of God was the Socinians’ denial that any form of vindictive justice is proper to God. This error required a sound refutation.

To accomplish this refutation, Turretin offers four proofs that vindictive justice is essential to God: Scripture, the dictates of conscience and consent of nations, the ceremonial law, and our redemption through Christ’s death. The first proof is offered as follows:

First, in those places in which the praise of perfect holiness and justice is given to God by which he is said to utterly detest and turn away from sin: ‘Thou art a God that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children’ (Ex. 34:7); ‘Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil’ (Hab. 1:13); ‘Thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness: neither shall evil dwell with thee’ (Ps. 5:4*); and frequently elsewhere.24

From these passages, Turretin concludes that God necessarily hates sin, and if He hates sin, He must justly punish it.

The second proof of God’s vindictive justice is from man’s conscience, and the consent of nations unenlightened by Scripture. As Scripture recognizes, the human conscience functions by either accusing or excusing the deeds which men commit (Romans 2:14-15). Since man is created in the image of God, this sense of impending punishment when evil is done necessarily requires the sense of justice to have derived from God’s vindictive justice. Thus, Turretin concludes that “among all people (even the most savage) this persuasion has prevailed that God is the just Judge of crimes, and if he did not exercise this justice, he would not be God.”25 In this way, conscience has been institutionalized among the heathen, and built into their ways of living and thinking.

Turretin argues the third proof from the moral and ceremonial laws. Turretin asserts that since the precepts of the moral law are, for the most part, indispensable and founded on the eternal and natural right of God, that therefore the penal sanctions added to the moral laws must likewise be indispensable. Thus, “(as has been shown before) there is a natural and necessary connection between sin and punishment, moral and physical evil, just as moral and physical good are mutually connected by an indissoluble bond.”26 Therefore, the just penal sanctions for violations of the moral law demonstrate the eternal and natural right of God, and His essential revenging justice.

The fourth and final proof is the capstone to this series of arguments for the vindictive justice of God being essential to Him. Was our Lord Jesus Christ slain out of an unnecessary and free choice by God, or was His cruel death required by divine justice? “Will the supreme goodness and wisdom of God suffer us to believe that this was done gratuitously and without the highest necessity?”27 Does God take no delight in the death of the sinner, but delight in the death of His most innocent and beloved Son? God forbid! Rather Christ offered Himself not as a work of bare will but of justice which had to be propitiated (Romans 3:15).

The fourth topic in the Institutes deals with the decrees of God and predestination. In this topic, the major adversaries are the Arminians, while many papists, Lutherans and Anabaptists also join the fray. The burden of the Arminians was to set out a god who is acceptable to the natural man. Such a god could not have absolute decrees from all eternity, but must be subject to the free will of the creature. Consequently much of Turretin’s energy is spent in toppling the idol of free will which they have sought to set up “in the citadel.” The major themes include election, reprobation, the free offer, the eternity of the decrees, necessity, and other related issues. However, due to space constraints, I will focus my attention on Turretin’s treatment of election, reprobation and the free offer.

In a bold stroke, Turretin discusses how the term predestination includes both election and reprobation. The reasons he offers are that, first, Scripture uses the word proorizein in reference to the wicked acts of those who crucified Christ (Luke 22:22 and Acts 4:28), which were acts for which these reprobates were condemned.28 Second, Scripture uses phrases to describe reprobation which are the equivalents of proorizein, as when certain persons:

are appointed to wrath (1 Thess. 5:9; 1 Pet. 2:8), fitted to destruction (Rom. 9:22), ordained to condemnation (Jd. 4), made unto dishonor (Rom. 9:21) and for the day of evil (Prov. 16:4). If reprobation is described in these phrases, why can it not be expressed by the word ‘predestination’?29

Turretin confirms this doctrine from the testimony of the fathers:

‘We confess the elect to life and the predestination of the wicked to death’ (Council of Valence, Mansi, 15:4). ‘He fulfills what he wills, properly using even evil things as if the very best to the damnation of those whom he has justly predestinated to punishment’ (Augustine, Enchiridion 26 [100] [FC 3:454; PL 40.279].30

Turretin likewise skillfully argues for the gracious and free nature of election to glory, as having no foreseen merit in those chosen, but merely made according to the good pleasure of God. In accordance with the sound teaching of Scripture, Turretin insists that God chose us, we did not choose Him. Otherwise, what is predestination in Scripture would be called “postdestination.”31 God did not choose us because He foresaw that we would believe, but chose us so that we would believe:

Rather election depended upon his sole good pleasure (eudokia) by which, as he selected from the corrupt mass a certain number of men neither more worthy nor better than others to whom he would destine salvation, so in like manner he decreed to give them faith as the means necessary to obtain salvation (see Synod of Dort, ‘Primum Caput: De Divina Praedestionationes,’ 7, 9, 10 in Acta Synodi Nationalis… Dordrechti [1619-20], 1:280).

Hereby Turretin recognizes that God is to receive all glory for our salvation, and will not share it with anyone else.

Not only is election according to God’s good pleasure, but likewise reprobation:

Reprobation no less than election is made from good pleasure; therefore not from foreseen unbelief, as appears from Rom. 9:18 (‘whom he will he hardeneth’). If the will is the cause of the hardening, it is also the cause of the reprobation because the cause of a cause is also the cause of the thing caused. Now hardening is the cause of damnation; therefore that which is the cause of the former is also the cause of the latter.32

Turretin goes on to demonstrate how Scripture bears this out, by Paul’s example of the twins, Jacob and Esau, and the illustration of the potter’s power over the clay in Romans 9. If the potter has tremendous power over the clay he did not create, how much more power does the divine potter have over the clay which he did create?!

A few pages following, Turretin demonstrates the biblical truth that unbelief is ascribed to reprobation, and not reprobation to unbelief:

since unbelief is a consequence of reprobation, it cannot precede it. ‘Ye therefore hear not, because ye are not of God,’ said Christ to the Pharisees (Jn. 8:47). ‘Ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep’ (Jn. 10:26), i.e., ye are not of the number of the elect. ‘Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said, he hath blinded their eyes’ (Jn. 12:39, 40). Hence Peter says, ‘the reprobate were appointed unto disobedience’ (1 Pet. 2:8).33

Turretin was firm and immovable in this biblical truth that God has absolute control over His workmanship, and the creature has no right to balk against his Creator.

One point at which I found Turretin lacking in this first volume of the Institutes was his attempt to impeach the supralapsarian position. Along with Turretin, I do not believe that potter may be questioned by the clay. With Turretin I confess that election and reprobation are both made according to the good pleasure of God. I abhor the order of decrees proposed by those that feign a universal grace of God:

on this hypothesis God is made to have thought of the means before the end (viz., of Christ who was the most principal means of the execution of election before the salvation of the elect). Everyone sees that this is repugnant to right reason. For in every decree, a wise person intends the end before thinking of the means.34

Yet I reluctantly part company with Turretin when he refuses to apply this axiom to God’s intending the end before thinking of the means in reprobation. Turretin states:

The creation and fall are not ordered as means by themselves subordinated to the end of predestination, but are presupposed as the condition prerequisite in the object (as existence and ductility in clay are not the means which the potter strews under his purpose of preparing vessels for honor and dishonor, but only the condition or quality prerequisite in the object and the cause sine qua non).35

This appears to be the very repugnance to right reason which Turretin rightly chides in the advocates of universal grace.

An escape may be found for the infralapsarian, and for Turretin in particular, in another argument which he brings forward to justify his position:

The common axiom which supralapsarians like to use here… is: ‘That which is last in execution, ought to be first in intention’… In the execution, he (1) creates, (2) permits the fall, (3) redeems, (4) calls, sanctifies and glorifies. Thus it behooved God first to intend the glorification and redemption of man before he thought about his production or the permission of his fall (which everyone sees to be absurd).36

I, for one, do not see the intention of the final end of calling, redemption, etc. to be logically absurd as proposed first. To my mind, thinking any other way makes God’s plan subject to the condition of the creature. To use Turretin’s earlier illustration, God created the lump of clay, and then formed it unto honor or dishonor according to His good pleasure. God, the wisest of all beings, certainly thought of the end before thinking of the means.

One other refreshing subject Turretin deals with are the texts often used to support the free offer notion. The notion is not bad, per se, when understood in the context Turretin supplies. Turretin states:

Although God is said to will the salvation of all (1 Tim. 2:4) and not to delight in the death of the sinner (Ezk. 18:23), it does not on that account follow that he has reprobated no one because the same Scripture elsewhere testifies that God does not have mercy upon some and ordains them to condemnation. It is one thing, therefore, to will the salvation of men by the will euarestias (i.e., to be pleased with it); another to will it by the will eudokias (i.e., to intend it). One thing to will the salvation of all indiscriminately; another to will the salvation of all and everyone universally. The latter is incompatible (asystaton) with reprobation, but not the former.37

Thus, if we keep in mind the preceptive versus the secret will of God, God commands all men everywhere to repent, but, by His hidden judgment, has determined to blind the eyes of some, to harden their hearts, and to condemn them for their sins. Reprobation is a fact of Scripture, as is the command to repent, and Turretin is unwilling to give the modern, irrational I’m-too-pious-to-use-logic answer, but applies his own principle about the use of consequences in theology.38

Turretin confirms a proper understanding of the “whosoever will” passages by citation of Augustine:

As Augustine explains it, ‘All the human race distributed through whatever differences, kings, primates, noble, ignoble, lofty, humble, learned, unlearned… in all languages, in all manners, in all ages, in all professions, established in an innumerable variety of wills and consciences, and whatever other differences there may be among men’ (Enchiridion 27 [103] [FC 3:457; PL 40:280]).39

Again, under the gospel, the grace of God has appeared unto all men, not individually, but indiscriminately.

The fifth topic in the Institutes is creation. Although one of Turretin’s shorter topics, it is sound and helpful in refuting the false claims of errorists. Turretin implicitly denies the notion that empiricism may claim a clearer revelation concerning creation than the doctrine of creation in Scripture. For example, Turretin cogently demonstrates that the prating of pagans about the eternity of creation is mere mindless babbling. Scripture speaks univocally on this topic:

The various passages of Scripture which assert the production of the world belong here: Ps. 33:6; Jn. 1:3; Heb. 1:10; Jer. 10:11, 12. They also predicate the eternal existence of God (as also of his decree) from thisthat they are said to have been before the foundation of heaven and earth (Ps. 90:2; Prov. 8:22, 23; Eph. 1:4; Mt. 25:34; 2 Tim. 1:9).40

Moreover, creation was completed in six days, and the narrative in the first three chapters of Genesis is plain and historical. These facts of Scripture serve to vitiate the ridiculous claims of “old-earth” humanists, and the pious speculation of Augustine that the world was created in a moment, or the instantaneous creation view:

But there are the following objections to this opinion: (1) the simple and historical Mosaic narration, which mentions six days and ascribes a particular work to each day; (2) the earth is said to have been without form and void and darkness rested upon the face of the deep (which could not have been said if all things had been created in one moment); (3) in the fourth commandment (recommending the sanctification of the seventh day), God is said to have been engaged in creation six days and to have rested on the seventh day). This reason would have had no weight, if God had created all things in a single moment. (4) No reason can be given for the order followed by Moses in his narration, if all things were not made successively.41

God created all things in six days, visible and invisible, including man. Man was created upright, and not in a state of “pure nature” as the new and old Pelagians prate. Turretin demonstrates this with the following reasons:

(1) because man was made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26) and thus morally good and upright (Ecc. 7:29). For since that image (as it is afterwards said) consisted principally of original righteousness, he cannot be said to have been created in a state of pure nature who was adorned with this from the beginning. (2) He was made to glorify and worship God (Prov. 16:4; Rom. 11:36), duties he could not perform unless endowed with the necessary gifts (viz., wisdom and holiness).42

Thus, the fall of man is set in its proper context. The height from which man fell makes his fallenness all the more significant. Though originally wise and holy, man is now foolish and unholy. Man’s mind and will are dark and enslaved to sin, though created upright. This alone can explain why man’s regeneration, calling, justification, et cetera are nothing less than acts of almighty power.

The sixth topic in the Institutes is God’s providence. Various errors arise concerning providence, mainly with a pious goal of not making God out to be the author of sin. Most of these errors are in defect, as they ascribe much less to God than is suited to His glory, and even some good men seek to deflect the notion that God is concerned with supposedly trivial matters. Hence Turretin proves that all things are under providence:

The reasons are: (1) God created all things, therefore he also takes care of all things. For if it was glorious for God to create them, it ought not to be unbecoming in him to take care of them.43

Because the providence of God is linked to His creative work, His glory is not diminished by caring for the most vile and lowly of His creatures, but rather much increased.

Not only is God at work in the lowliest of creatures, but He is at work in the most wicked of His creatures’ acts. If God is said to have meant the evil work of Joseph’s brothers for good (Genesis 50:20), and to have delivered up our Lord to be wickedly slain, according to His determinate counsel and foreknowledge (Acts 2:23), then obviously God’s providence is powerfully at work in the evil works of men for His glory and our salvation.

Turretin helpfully explains:

First, three things must be accurately distinguished in sin: (1) the entity itself of the act which has the relation of material; (2) the disorder (ataxia) and wickedness joined with it (or its concomitant) which puts on the notion of the formal; (3) the consequent judgment called the adjunct. God is occupied in different ways about these.44

Turretin helpfully elucidates the act, the disorder and the consequent, demonstrating that God’s total providence interacts with each part of a particular sinful action in various ways. Every act, he argues, considered merely as an act, is good. God conserves the nature of the actor, excites the motions and actions since “in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

Regarding the disorder of lawlessness:

sin ought not to be removed from the providence of God, for it falls under it in many ways as to its beginning, progress and end. As to its beginning, he freely permits it; as to its progress, he wisely directs it; as to its end, he powerfully terminates and brings it to a good end.45

God is not the author of sin, yet in His most holy, wise and powerful providence, He directs the evil that men intend to good, as Joseph and Peter powerfully testify above.

In a broader sense, Turretin effectively demonstrates that events generally ascribed to fortuitous or contingent causes also fall under providence. For instance:

Nothing is more contingent than the killing of a man by a woodcutter contrary to his own intention, and yet this is ascribed to God, who is said to deliver him into the hand of the slayer (Ex. 21:12, 13; Dt. 19:4f.). Nothing is more casual and fortuitous than lots, and yet their falling out is referred to God himself: ‘The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord’ (Prov. 16:33).46

Although such matters may at first appear to be rather academic, yet nothing is more comforting than to know that God’s providence is always at work for our good. No matter what may befall us, we are in God’s good hands. What a comforting and joyous thought!

Moreover, regardless of what our enemies may choose, or even we ourselves, matters generally considered as acts of free will are under providence:

it is evident from the Scriptures that free and voluntary things, which are in our power (eph’ hēmin) and are done with purpose (ek proaireseōs), are governed by providence. ‘The preparations of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, is from the Lord’ (Prov. 16:1); ‘A man’s heart deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps’ (Prov. 16:9); ‘The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will’ (Prov. 21:1); ‘O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps’ (Jer. 10:23). ‘From the place of his habitation he looketh upon all the inhabitants of the earth. He fashioneth their hearts alike; he considereth all their works’ (Ps. 33:14, 15).47

Scripture, therefore, not only ascribes completely contingent acts to divine providence, but likewise free acts. Even the mind and will of those that are seemingly the most ungovernable (kings), are under His divine care.

Turretin’s treatment of his seventh topic, angels, is brief but powerful. He discusses the nature and ministry of angels, and what love is due to them. In contrast with what Scripture teaches, Turretin demonstrates the demonic practices of the anti-christian kingdom of the Pope as they consider angels as mediators who hear our prayers and receive our worship. Angels cannot carry our prayers to God, since they have no power to wash away the stains and sins attendant to our prayers. Nor can angels know any unuttered prayers, nor the sincerity of our prayers, since they are not searchers of men’s hearts, as God alone is.48

The most powerful portion of Turretin’s storm against the anti-Christ’s kingdom is the testimony of the fathers of the ancient church. Augustine lists the Angelics as heretics inclined to the worship of angels in his work De Haeresibus, and says that because angels show us such intense love by ministering for our salvation, “’We honor them not by divine worship but with love.’”49 Turretin goes on to cite authorities as diverse as Tertullian, Origen, Lactantius, the Council of Laodicea in 364 A.D., and Charlemagne. The general tenor of which quotations is summarized by the Council of Laodicea, that we abandon the true and living God when we worship any creature, “’to call angels by name and to make societies, is to leave the church of God, to be employed in secret idolatries, and to forsake Christ’.”50

The eighth topic Turretin treats in the Institutes is man’s state before the fall and the covenant of nature. Turretin discusses human nature in its fourfold state as it relates to the accidents of man’s liberty. Before the fall, man was able not to sin; after the fall, but before redemption, man is not able not to sin; after redemption, man is to be able to sin and not to sin; in glory, man is unable to sin.51 With this background in place, Turretin discusses the covenant God made with Adam in his state of innocence, and the Arminian objections to this doctrine. Turretin proves this covenant as follows:

There are granted the essential parties of a covenant, God and man. God, who as the Creator of man, must also be his governor and from this, his legislator, and because good in his own nature, the rewarder also of those who seek him (Heb. 11:6), so that he would not only give him a law for his direction, but also hold forth a reward to him for keeping it.52

Moreover, since God imposed a law and threatened a sanction, we may conclude the positive reward to be attendant, since God is just in dispensing rewards as well as punishments. Likewise, since the promise of life, “do this and live,” is throughout Scripture, we see that the positive reward of life for obedience is not a vain speculation, but part and parcel of the justice of God.

The ninth topic Turretin covers is the biblical teaching on sin. Since the Pelagians have sought to corrupt this doctrine since the early days of the church, Turretin spends a good deal of time establishing a few basic facts about sin. First, the fact of original sin: that man has inherited corruption from our first father. Second, the imputation of Adam’s first act of sin to all who descend from him by ordinary generation.

To establish the fact of inherited depravity, Turretin goes to the beginning: Genesis. In particular, he explains the unique role of Adam as a covenant head and public person. Next, he examines God’s evaluation of man’s nature from the epoch of the flood:

‘Every imagination of the thoughts of man’s heart is said to be only evil, continually’ (Gen. 6:5) even ‘from his youth’ (Gen. 8:21). Here occurs the judgment of God himself concerning his own work (corrupted and polluted, by which is denoted not only the corruption of men, but universal corruption as much habitual of the heart, as actual of the thoughts; indeed from the very beginning of life born with us and continual).53

The Pelagian idol of free will is razed by these two utterances of Scripture. Not only so, but Turretin demonstrates the fallacy of the Pelagians who deny the imputation of Adam’s first sin in order to establish their heretical doctrine of salvation.

In Turretin’s last topic, free will in the state of sin, he focuses on man’s depravity and how it has affected fallen man’s free will. Free will, in a formal sense, consists of:

  1. the choice (hē proairesis), so that what is done is done by a previous judgment of reason; (2) the willingness (to hekousion), so that what is done is done voluntarily and without compulsion.54

After this general definition, Turretin argues that Scripture gives us a very bleak picture of what man chooses with his fallen will and reason. Man is called a slave to sin, under its dominion, is brought to bondage to sin by Satan, is said to fulfill his evil desires, and is worked upon effectually by the devil.55 From this, we may conclude that man’s free will in a state of sin does him no spiritual good. Turretin sums up, “Now who would say that this most miserable slavery in evil can consist with the golden liberty to good; that the sinner enslaved to the flesh can do anything to free himself from the yoke of tyranny to which he has voluntarily submitted?”56

To sum up, Francis Turretin’s Institutes are a model of sound doctrine, penned by the prince of scholastic Calvinism. His vast learning and zeal for the truth of God are an example to those who have followed him. His pastoral care and practical application of the truths of Scripture would be well imitated by any Christian minister. We have touched on Turretin’s treatment of theology, the Holy Scriptures, the One and Triune God, the decrees of God and predestination, creation, providence, angels, man’s state before the fall and the covenant of nature, sin, and free will in the state of sin. This volume has been edifying, challenging and convicting, and I would heartily recommend it to any Christian.

1 Francis Turretin, Institutes of Elenctic Theology, Volume One: First Through Tenth Topics, (Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, 1992). This work will be cited as Institutes in the text and footnotes. Note: spelling, capitalization, punctuation, formatting and citations have followed this edition as closely as possible.

2[T]o convict, refute, confute, generally with a suggestion of the shame of the person convicted”. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament being Grimm’s Wilke’s Clavis Novi Testamenti, Joseph Henry Thayer, trans. (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1979) 202.

3Institutes, 5.

4Institutes, 6.

5 Institutes, 10-11.

6Institutes, 31.

7 Cf. Institutes, 31.

8Institutes, 39.

9Institutes, 258.

10Institutes, 259.

11Institutes, 55.


13Institutes, 139-40.

14Institutes, 55.

15Institutes, 69.

16Institutes, 71.

17Institutes, 72.

18 Cf. Institutes, 72ff.

19Institutes, 107.

20Institutes, 96.

21Institutes, 169.

22Institutes, 173.

23Institutes, 173.

24Institutes, 237.

25Institutes, 238.


27Institutes, 239.

28 Cf. Institutes, 332.

29Institutes, 333.


31 Cf. Institutes, 361.

32Institutes, 384.

33Institutes, 386.

34Institutes, 424.

35Institutes, 347.

36Institutes, 348.

37Institutes, 389.

38 See pages 4-5 supra.

39Institutes, 409.

40Institutes, 437.

41Institutes, 444-5.

42Institutes, 463-4.

43Institutes, 498.

44Institutes, 515.

45Institutes, 516.

46Institutes, 499.

47Institutes, 500.

48 Cf. Institutes, 561.

49Institutes, 563.

50Institutes, 565.

51 Cf. Institutes, 571.

52Institutes, 575.

53Institutes, 631.

54Institutes, 662.

55 John 8:43; Romans 6:12-14; 2 Peter 2:19; John 8:44; and Ephesians 2:2.

56Institutes, 671.


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