Supralapsarianism: The Teleological Principle

By Robert L. Reymond in A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith

In light of these difficulties with the infralapsarian arrangement of the order of the divine decrees, supralapsarians, including such eminent Reformed thinkers as Theodore Beza of Geneva, William Whitaker and William Perkins in the sixteenth-century Church of England, Franciscus Gomarus and Gisbertus Voetius in seventeenth-century Holland, William Twisse, first prolocutor of the Westminster Assembly, and in more recent times Geerhardus Vos, offer another arrangement. But most supralapsarians, after placing the discriminating decree in the first position, for some inexplicable reason then abandon the supralapsarian insight that “in planning the rational mind passes from the end to the means in a retrograde movement” and arrange the remaining decrees not in a retrograde order but in the order in which the events to which they refer occurred historically (the effect of which will become clear as we proceed). Thus the more common (but inconsistent) supralapsarian arrangement is as follows:

1. *the election of some men to salvation in Christ (and the reprobation of the others)

2. the decree to create the world and both kinds of men

3. the decree that all men would fall

4. the decree to redeem the elect, who are now sinners, by the cross work of Christ

5. the decree to apply Christ’s redemptive benefits to these elect sinners.

An analysis of this arrangement of the order of decrees will show, because the discriminating decree is placed at the head of all the other decrees with the others then proceeding in the order in which the events to which they refer took place in history, that God at the point of discrimination is represented as discriminating among men simply as men, inasmuch as the decree respecting the Fall does not come until point three.

Other supralapsarians, such as (possibly) Jerome Zanchius (1516–1590),47 Johannes Piscator (1546–1625), Herman Hoeksema (d. 1965),48 and Gordon H. Clark (1902–1985),49 have suggested, with minor variations among them, that the decrees should be arranged in the following order:

1. *the election of some sinful men to salvation in Christ (and the reprobation of the rest of sinful mankind in order to make known the riches of God’s gracious mercy to the elect)

2. the decree to apply Christ’s redemptive benefits to the elect sinners

3. the decree to redeem the elect sinners by the cross work of Christ

4. the decree that men should fall

5. the decree to create the world and men.

In this latter scheme the discriminating decree stands in the first position with the creation decree standing in the last position. It should also be noted that in this scheme, unlike the former, God is represented as discriminating among men viewed as sinners and not among men viewed simply as men. The election and salvation of these elect sinners in Christ becomes the decree that unifies all the other parts of the one eternal purpose of God. This revision of the more common scheme addresses the infralapsarian objection that supralapsarianism depicts God as discriminating among men viewed simply as men and not among men viewed as sinners. How it is that this revised scheme is able to depict God as discriminating among men as sinners, even as the infralapsarian scheme does (but for an obviously different reason), will become clear as we elucidate the two principles which govern this revision of the supralapsarian order.

The Primacy of the Particularizing Principle

Because they are persuaded that Scripture places the particularizing grace of God in Jesus Christ, the Alpha and Omega, at the beginning, the center, and the end of all God’s ways and works, the supralapsarians who offer the revised, or consistently supralapsarian, order make the particularizing principle the primary and unifying principle of the eternal purpose of God. (All supralapsarians share this concern, by the way.) Therefore, these supralapsarians believe it both appropriate and necessary so to arrange the decrees that every decree is made to serve this primary principle. Accordingly, they postpone to the fourth and fifth positions respectively, after the explicitly redemptive decrees, the lapsarian decree and the creation decree in order to make the Fall and even creation itself serve the particularistic purpose of God. Contrary to the infralapsarian assertion that “creation in the Bible is never represented as a means of executing the purpose of election and reprobation,”50 all supralapsarians insist that the created world must never be viewed as standing off over against God’s redemptive activity, totally divorced from the particularizing purpose of God, the ultimate concern of God’s “eternal purpose,” and as fulfilling some general purpose(s) unrelated to the redemptive work of Christ. They insist so on the ground that such a representation of creation shatters the unity of the one eternal purpose of God and provides a base within the eternal decree itself for the development of an unbiblical natural theology. As we have seen, they are persuaded that Ephesians 3:9–11 expressly affirms that creation’s purpose is subservient to God’s redemptive purpose and that the same subservience is suggested in Romans 1:20 and 8:19–23. In sum, they are persuaded

1. that God created all things in order that he might show forth through the redeemed community, his church, the glory of his wisdom and grace in accordance with his eternal purpose which he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord;51

2. that he determined that creation by its revelation of his “eternal power and divine nature” would condemn the reprobate; and

3. that by its reflexive agony and ecstasy creation would empathize with the church’s agony and ecstasy.


47 See Jerome Zanchius, The Doctrine of Absolute Predestination, trans. Augustus M. Toplady (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1977). Richard A. Muller in Christ and the Decree (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1986) argues that Zanchius was an infralapsarian (112), but Otto Gründler maintains that he was indeed a supralapsarian (Die Gotteslehre Girolami Zanchis und irhe Bedeutung für seine Lehre von der Prädestination [Neukirchen, 1965], 112). See also L. Leblanc, Theses Theologicae (London, 1683), 183.

48 Herman Hoeksema, Reformed Dogmatics (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Reformed Free Publishing Association, 1966), 161–65.

49 Gordon H. Clark, “The Nature of Logical Order” (unpublished paper presented at the Third Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society).

50 Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1954), 2:318.

51 See Ephesians 1:6, 12, 14; 2:7, where Paul declares that all that God has done for the Christian (in accordance with his eternal purpose) he has done “to the praise of the glory of his grace which he has freely given us in the One he loves” and “in order that he might show in the ages to come the incomparable riches of his grace in his kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”