The Prejudice of Twisse

J.V. Fesko writes about William Twisse’s brazen-faced denial of God’s absolute and sovereign control over His creation:

“…[I]n  its chapter on human free will, the Confession states, ‘God hath indued the Will of man with that natural liberty, that is neither forced, nor by any absolute necessity of nature determined to good or evil’ (9.1). Adam was not forced to sin; he did so freely.

On this issue, Twisse explains that the decree ‘brings no necessity at all of sinning upon man.’ He insists, ‘The necessity following upon this will of God, is nothing prejudiciall to the liberty or contingency of second agents in their several operations.’ 40 Concerning Acts 4:28 Twisse argues that God ordained that the events of the crucifixion should occur: Judas would betray Christ, Herod would mock him, Pilate would condemn him, the people would cry out for his crucifixion, the soldiers would crucify him — all of these things were decreed. But Twisse stipulates:

‘But how came it to passe? Not necessarily, but contingently, that is in this Authours phrase evitably and avoidably, in as much as it was joined with an absolute possibility to come to passe otherwise; Nor with a possibility only but with a free power in the agents to have forborne all these contumelious carriages of theirs towards the Son of God. For both Judas had free will to abstain from betraying him, and Herod with his Herodians could have abstained from their contumelious handling of him, and Pilate from condemning him, and the Priests and people from conspiring against him; and the Souldiers from crucifying him, only they had no power to abstain from all or any of these vile actions in an holy manner, as no man else hath power to abstaine from any evil in a gracious manner, without grace.’ 41

In context, Twisse appeals to both Aquinas and Augustine (354-430). In particular, Twisse cites Aquinas to show that necessity and contingency are both wrapped up in the decree. 42 In other words, in a certain sense, Twisse’s affirmation of necessity and contingency, and the Confession’s for that matter, is not new but has ancient pedigree in the Patristic and medieval periods.

Some might question the need for such scholastic hairsplitting and seemingly speculative theology as it pertains to the divine decree. But buried beneath all of these distinctions, and stated quite simply and succinctly in the Confession, are the principles of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. God, despite the decree of Adam’s fall, is not the author of sin. God does not force anyone to do anything” (J.V. Fesko, The Theology of the Westminster Standards, pp. 108-110; underlining mine–CD).

40 Twisse, Riches of God’s Love, 1:28.
41 Ibid., 2:64.
42 See Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Ia, q. 19, art. 8.

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