Perkins’ Permission

William Perkins (1558-1602) is said by some to be the Beza of Cambridge University. It is alleged that “Perkins exercised far more influence among the later Puritans than anyone else” (Curt Daniel, The History and Theology of Calvinism, p. 41). But in the opinion of other Calvinists, Perkins’ influence today has waned considerably since that time.

The following quote come from Perkins’ The Art of Prophesying (“first published in Latin 1592 and in English 1606”):

“When something is said of God, which implies his involvement in evil, it must be understood as referring to his working permission. This is commonplace in the Old Testament ‘And it yields much increase to the kings You have set over us, Because of our sins; Also they have dominion over our bodies and our cattle at their pleasure; And we are in great distress’ (Neh. 9:37); ‘The Lord has mingled a perverse spirit in her midst; And they have caused Egypt to err in all her work’ (Isa. 19:14). God thus hardened the heart of Pharaoh (Exod. 11:10). Again, ‘The Lord your God hardened his spirit and made his heart obstinate, that He might deliver him into your hand, as it is this day’ (Deut. 2:30). ‘For it was of the Lord to harden their hearts, that they should come against Israel in battle, that He might utterly destroy them, and that they might receive no mercy, but that He might destroy them’ (Josh. 11:20); ‘Nevertheless they did not heed the voice of their father, because the Lord desired to kill them’ (1 Sam. 2:25). ‘The destruction of Ahaziah came of God’ (2 Chron. 22:7, Geneva Bible). ‘He turned their heart to hate His people, to deal craftily with His servants’ (Psa. 105:25). ‘And if the prophet is induced to speak anything, I the Lord have induced that prophet, and I will stretch out My hand against him and destroy him from among My people Israel’ (Ezek. 14:9).

But there are also examples of this in the New Testament: ‘God gave them over to a debased mind’ (Rom. 1:28). ‘God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie’ (2 Thess. 2:11)” (William Perkins, The Art of Prophesying).

What to say in response to Perkins’ proof-texts for a “working permission”?  Perkins says it MUST be “understood as referring to his working permission.”  Well, in all of the verses he cites there is no hint of a “working permission” or what others have in Latin called, “permissio efficax.” 

What is clearly set forth in those powerful verses cited by Perkins is God’s absolute control and active hardening of the wicked.  There is unwitting irony exhibited by Perkins in his citing of Biblical passages that obliterate his absurd and blasphemous fiction of a “working permission” in order to retain a (false) sense of control.

“Why do the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD, and against his anointed, [saying,] Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us. He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision” (Psalm 2:1-4).

“The LORD shall cut off all flattering lips, [and] the tongue that speaketh proud things: Who have said, With our tongue will we prevail; our lips [are] our own: who [is] lord over us?” (Psalm 12:3-4)

“Shall the axe boast itself against him that heweth therewith? [or] shall the saw magnify itself against him that shaketh it? as if the rod should shake [itself] against them that lift it up, [or] as if the staff should lift up [itself, as if it were] no wood” (Isaiah 10:15).

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