Watson’s Permissive Decree

Thomas Watson writes:

“To conclude with a word to the wicked, who march furiously against God and his people — let them know that God’s decree is unchangeable. God will not alter it, nor can they break it! While they resist God’s will, they fulfill it. There is a two-fold will of God — the will of God’s precept, and the will of his decree. While the wicked resist the will of God’s precept, they fulfill the will of his permissive decree. Judas betrays Christ, Pilate condemns him, the soldiers crucify him; while they resist the will of God’s precepts, they fulfill the will of his permissive decree.

‘For, in fact, in this city both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, assembled together against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, to do whatever Your hand and Your plan had predestined to take place.’ Acts 4:27-28.

God commands one thing, they do the contrary. While they disobey his command, they fulfill his permissive decree. If a man sets up two nets, one of silk, the other of iron, the silken net may be broken, not the iron one. Just so, while men break the silken net of God’s command, they are taken in the iron net of his decree; while they sit backward to God’s precepts, they row forward to his decrees. God decrees to permit their sin, and then to punish them for their sin permitted” (Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity; underlining mine).

Thomas Watson shows he does not believe in the God of Isaiah 10:5-15. Take a gander at that passage and consider HOW God accomplished that Assyrian Correction in history. That’s not a particularly passive swing, folks. It is a fulfillment of God’s ACTIVE DECREE; not a passive decree contrary to Watson et al (unless it is the axe who swings the woodsman rather than the woodsman who swings the axe).

Axes, war clubs, hammers are not able to initiate their own swing (so far as I can tell). A creature cannot self-move — that is, it cannot be the ultimate metaphysical cause of its own swing (unless it’s willing to call itself “Yahweh”). Neither does a creature derive its being from its being (cf. Exodus 3:14). The Potter makes the pots; the pots don’t and can’t make themselves (Romans 9:20-21). Well, unless you’re a permissive decree Calvinist, and then pots DO and CAN make themselves.

“You [are] My war club [and] weapons of war, for with you I will shatter nations and with you I will destroy kingdoms” (Jeremiah 51:20).

Watson said that God punishes sinners for the sin that He permits them to commit. This permission language, if correctly understood, would NOT evoke the Apostolic critic’s

“Why does He yet find fault? For who has resisted His will?” (Romans 9:19)

And why, rightly understood, would it NOT evoke that type of response or a variant of that response? Because in a “permissive” or “passive” hardening the Potter’s power and wrath would NOT be demonstrated in making and fitting vessels of wrath for destruction; rather, the creaturely-clay would be demonstrating and publicizing its own metaphysically magnificent feat of making and fitting itself.

“You will then say to me, Why does He yet find fault? For who has resisted His will? Yes, rather, O man, who are you answering against God? Shall the thing formed say to the [One] forming [it], Why did You make me like this? Or does not the potter have authority over the clay, out of the one lump to make one vessel to honor, and one to dishonor? But if God, desiring to demonstrate His wrath, and to make His power known, endured in much long-suffering vessels of wrath having been fitted out for destruction, and that He make known the riches of His glory on vessels of mercy which He before prepared for glory, whom He also called, not only us, of Jews, but also out of nations. As also He says in Hosea, I will call those Not My people, My people! And those not beloved, Beloved! And it shall be, in the place where it was said to them, You are not My people, there they will be called, Sons of the Living God” (Romans 9:19-26).

God the Holy Spirit through Paul formulates the unbelieving objector’s complaint thusly:

“Why did You make me like this?”

Watson and friends would say that God DID NOT make you like this — you made yourself like this. But what does the Scripture say? It says God DID make you like this and He has the right and authority to do so, and you are responsible and have no grounds to object. Moral responsibility DOES NOT imply creaturely freedom from an active decree; it implies Creator sovereignty. Man is responsible because God is sovereign and NOT because man is free. Why doth He yet find fault?

The vessels of mercy — those for whom Christ died — have a place wherein to glory and rejoice ( see 1 Corinthians 1:17-31 and Galatians 6:14-16). There is also place for trembling because they understand that, ultimately, the vessels of wrath — those for whom Christ did not die — cannot boast even in their culpable unbelief. May God’s called-out ones rejoice with trembling at this awesome and precious truth.

“God does not have any love toward the reprobate or any desire to save them, for God does not show love at the expense of His justice. The good things that God gives to them in this life lead only to their destruction, increasing their guilt for their thanklessness to God. Jesus Christ did not die for the reprobate in any sense, and they do not benefit in any sense from His death. Scripture, in speaking of God’s love for ‘all men’ and ‘the world’ is not speaking of all men without exception. Rather, these words refer to God’s love for all men without distinction – that is, regardless of their nationality or status. [Psa 2:4-5; 5:5-6; 11:5; 73:11-12; 92:7; Pro 3:32-33; 11:20; 12:2; 16:4-5; 17:15; Joh 3:16; 15:22; 17:9; Rom 9:13; 1Ti 2:4; 1Pe 2:8; 1Jo 2:2; 4:10]

“God uses the preaching of the gospel as a special means of hardening the reprobate.” [Isa 6:9-12; Mat 13:13-15; Mar 4:11-12; 2Co 2:14-16]

“Contrary to the aspersions of the enemies of God, this doctrine of reprobation does not make believers exalt themselves over other men; instead, it humbles them and causes them to tremble before Almighty God, thankful that He has graciously numbered them among the elect rather than the reprobate.” [Rom 9:15-16,23,29; 1Co 4:7; 2Th 2:11-13]