Election is the decree of God by which He in perfect sovereignty determined in which persons, known to Him by name in Christ, He has decided to magnify His mercy gloriously unto their salvation, and also by which means He Himself shall bring those persons to salvation.
This decree is the Book of life, in which the names of the elect are written. (Rev. 20)
Scripture uses the word elect or chosen in different ways. Sometimes it is used in connection with a certain office, either a civil or an ecclesiastical office. In I Sam. 10:24, I Sam. 16:10, and in Ps. 78:70 it is used in the first sense; and in Luke 6:13 and John 6:70 in the second sense.
In other places the elect are the entire Jewish people, unto whom God had given His laws and statutes. (Deut. 4:37; 7:7)
Often choosing means setting apart in time according to the eternal decree and by effectual calling. (Ps. 4:3; John 15:16; 15:19; I Cor. 1:27,28)
Finally, and most commonly the word election is used to signify God’s eternal decree to the salvation of God’s people. (Rom.8:29,30,33; Eph. 1:4; Rev. 1:4)
The sovereign, eternal, and unchangeable election took place in Christ. (Eph. 1:4) In the election of Christ as Mediator lies the election of those who shall be saved. His election and theirs are one. Therefore, already in election the union of Christ with the elect is established. He is the head, and they are His body. Hence, Paul states that the election in Christ is the fountain of all blessings in Christ. In the first chapter of the epistle to the Ephesians Paul glories in the blessings with which the elect are blessed in Christ. More than ten times Paul says that the elect are blessed in Christ. In Him they are blessed with all spiritual blessings. (ver. 3) By Him they have the adoption of children. (ver. 5) In Him they receive grace. (ver. 6) In Him they have redemption. (ver. 7) In Him they have obtained an inheritance. (ver. 11) In Him they are gathered together. (ver. 10) In Him they were called and blessed and sealed, etc., (ver. 13) and that all because they were predestinated in Him. (ver. 5)
Although the elect were chosen in Christ, Christ is not the cause of election, any more than faith or good works can be. The sovereignty of God does not suffer any other cause beside itself. Christ Himself is the object of election: He is the Savior by election; election is not because of Him. Election is ascribed to the Triune God. To the Father: “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace be multiplied.” (I Peter 1:2) “According as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love.” (Eph. 1:4) “Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in Thy sight.” (Matt. 11:26) “All that the Father giveth Me shall come to Me; and him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out.” (John 6:37)
Election is also the work of the Son: “I know whom I have chosen.” (John 3:18) “Ye have not chose Me, but I have chosen you.” (John 15:16)
Election is also ascribed to the Holy Spirit, as we can conclude from I Cor. 6:11, “And such were some of you: but ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God.” (ICor. 6:11)
Although election, therefore, is ascribed to each of the three Divine Persons, nevertheless, it is particularly the work of the Father.
The description of election given above shows that God:
- chose the persons,
- determined the means by which He would accomplish His election,
- established the purpose of election, namely, the glorification of His mercy in the salvation of His people.
Now we will briefly discuss each of these points.
- That there is an election in which God destines salvation for certain persons chosen by Him in His eternal sovereignty, God’s Word teaches us in many places, such as these: “For whom He did foreknow them He also called: and whom He called them He also justified: and whom He justified them He also glorified. What shall we say then to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Rom. 8:29,30,31) “For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of Him that calleth. . . . For He saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.” (Rom. 9:11,15,16) “For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ.” (I Thess. 5:9) “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace be multiplied.” (I Peter 1:2) “So the last shall be first, and the first last: for many be called, but few chosen.” (Matt. 20:16)This predetermination from eternity makes the salvation of the elect unshakably certain, because all that God has decreed from eternity shall certainly take place in time. “In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will.” (Eph. 1:11) “Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world.” (Acts 15:18)Thus also eternal salvation is destined by God and is unshakably certain for those who are appointed to it. Everyone who has received an impression of the blessedness of God must realize how they who make man’s eternal destiny depend upon man’s free will, and keep it outside of God’s counsel, as the Pelagians do, violate the honor of God.
- means determined by God which He himself grants in accomplishing the election are the union and communion with Christ by faith, justification, sanctification, and the adoption of children. In a very unique sense Christ can be called the means, for the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in His hand. (Isa. 53:10) Moreover all that which serves to make them conformed to the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29) through the sanctification of the Spirit (I Peter 1:2) can be counted as means by which God gathers His elect.
- most perfect purpose of election is the glory of God. Election is indeed to the salvation of God’s people, but that salvation is to the glory of God. “And that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had afore prepared unto glory.” (Rom. 9:23)
Here we must make a few remarks on a few characteristics of election. Election is from eternity. “According as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world.” (Eph. 1:4) The election from eternity is certainly performed in time (I Cor. 1:26-28) before we believe and before we die. God draws His own in this life. He plucks them as a brand out of the fire. (Zech. 3:2) He passes them by in the open field (Ezek. 16) knowing perfectly those who are His.
Scripture speaks about the immutability of election in II Tim. 2:19; Rom. 8:29; 9:11; and other places. The number of the elect is determined, and can be neither increased nor decreased. This the Word of God testifies for the comfort of His people. No one shall pluck them out of the Father’s hand. Election is the unfathomable and inexpressible source of comfort for God’s poor people who are entirely lost in themselves. According to His pleasure God is glorified in them to their salvation. They are saved, not because they want to be saved, but because God wants to save them. “By Thee, by Thee alone, because of Thy eternal good pleasure.”
Our attention should especially be drawn to the fact that there is but one election to salvation. All those who teach the free will of fallen man, if they still deal with election, speak of many kinds of elections, as do the Pelagians, Socinians , Semi-Pelagians, among whom are the Roman Catholics, and alas, also many Lutherans.
Rejecting their blasphemous errors, the Reformed out of all countries, who were gathered at Dort confessed: “There are not various decrees of election, but one and the same decree respecting all those, who shall be saved, both under the Old and New Testament: since Scripture declares the good pleasure and counsel of the divine will to be one, according to which He hath chosen us from eternity, both to grace and glory, to salvation and the way of salvation, which He hath ordained what we should walk therein.” (Canons of Dort, I, Art. 8)
Those who hold the free will of fallen man deny the election of persons by the sovereign will of God. They assert that there is only an election of state and condition. According to them, God chose those who will believe, and rejected those who do not want to believe. Those that still speak of an election of persons say it is general and conditional. Thus, for example, the election of Peter would have taken place with the condition of faith and repentance, worked by himself in his own power. Furthermore these erring spirits speak of an election that is temporary and changeable, so that, for example, God decided to save Peter when he believed, but only if he persevered. This comfortless doctrine of the Pelagians leaves those that believe in despair until they die, for according to them it is possible any moment to lose their faith and fall out of election. “The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are His.” (II Tim. 2:19)
All of Scripture testifies against these abominable errors just mentioned. Moreover some even sank so far as to speak of a general election of all rational creatures. Origen taught that not only all people shall be saved, but also the devils who have been chosen thereto shall be saved after they have spent a certain length of time in hell to suffer their punishment. In the 16th century Puccius and Huberus followed him. God’s Word, however, very clearly denies a general election. “For many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matt. 20:16, and 22:14) “If ye were of the world, the world would love its own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.” (John 15:19) “I have manifested Thy name unto the men which Thou gayest Me out of the world: Thine they were, and Thou gayest them Me; and they have kept My word.” (John 17:6) “For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren”. (Rom. 8:29) “As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” “For He saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” “Therefore hath He mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth.” (Rom. 8:13,15,18) “For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ.” (I Thess. 5:9)
The word election excludes universality. For to elect means to choose out of a multitude, and this conflicts with an election of all. (John 15:19) Also, if there were a general election, there would be no reprobation, which, however, Scripture teaches. (Rom. 9:13; Jude 4; Prov. 16:4; Matt. 25:41) There is not one place in God’s Word that teaches a general election, which would be fruitless, and left undone, unless one accepts the idea that all men shall be saved, which is contrary to the entire Scripture, so that it deserves not one word of contradiction.
In Rom. 9:18 election, which there is called mercy, is not said to be general, as our opponents assert. The whole 9th chapter of the epistle to the Romans testifies against them. Is there any other chapter that teaches so clearly that both election and rejection of persons known to God by name are acts of perfect sovereignty? No, election is not general.
Neither does John 3:16 give erring spirits any ground. The “world” in this text means the world of the elect, not only of the Jews, but also of the heathen.
Other texts that are used to confirm their theory include: “Who will have all men to be saved.” (I Tim. 2:4) “Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?” (Ezek. 33:11) “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to usward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” (II Peter 3:9)
In I Tim. 2:4 Paul speaks of all men, both those in authority, and the subjects; and Ezekiel speaks of the death of those sinners which are converted by grace, namely God’s elect; while Peter teaches that God does not want any of the believers who have the promise to be lost. None of these texts, therefore speak of an election of all people. Nor is there a falling away of the saints. The Arminians speak of such a falling away, and point to I Tim. 1:19,20, where however, Paul does not speak of the falling away of true believers, but of outward confessors and temporary believers. These are like the seed that falls in stony places. They receive the word immediately with joy, but they are never rooted in Christ, and therefore wither. (Matt. 13:20,21)
Scripture speaks of a falling away, but only of those who are not chosen unto salvation, and this happens so that we will examine ourselves, and seek our salvation only in Christ, and also so that God’s true people would not be troubled too much, when some fall away from the faith, and turn again to the love of the world.
The elect, however, shall inherit salvation to which they and only they, are chosen.
We must defend the unconditionalness of election against the Pelagians, Socinians, and the Roman Catholics.
The Pelagians and Socinians teach an election based on foreseen faith and good works; and the Romanists on foreseen merits. These statements are inseparably connected with their doctrine of the free will of man. God’s Word, however speaks of the good pleasure of God as absolutely the only cause of election, as we have already seen. The Pelagians and the Semi-Pelagians appeal to Romans 8:29, and to I Pet. 1:1,2, where foreordination is emphatically called foreknowledge, but the foreknowledge of God did not take place because of foreseen faith, and that is the main point the Pelagians want to teach. God loves only those who are in Christ in whom they are elected (Eph. 1:4) before the foundation of the world (I Pet. 1:20). “Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.” (II Tim. 1:9)
We must also reject on the grounds of Scripture, as did Augustine and the Reformers, the doctrine of the Romanists defended by Catharinus at the Council of Trent, that the election to grace is absolute and independent, but the election to glory is conditional. There is only one election, and this one election is called an election of grace, because it excludes all merit of good works, and this election of grace is to the glory of God. “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Eph. 2:8,9) “And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in His presence.” (I Cor. 1:28,29) “Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth.” (Rom. 8:33) “For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.” (Rom. 11:29) “Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are His.” (II Tim. 2:19)
Let this be enough for Rome. The election is of the good pleasure of God, and is unchangeable. This is the comfortable doctrine of God’s Testimony. The elect shall be saved. In this life they can receive the assurance of it to strengthen them as we see in Luke 10:20, “Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven.”
The Pelagians have indeed objected that no one has ascended into heaven to look into the book of life, but the Lord does reveal His pleasure to His people. Therefore Peter admonished the elect to make their calling and election sure. They are sure in God, and the believers make it sure in their hearts. The assurance of faith is inseparably connected with the assurance of election. Those purchased by the blood of Christ, according to the good pleasure of the Father, are gathered at God’s time into the church of those that shall be saved. They receive a new life, and this has its marks by which everyone can examine himself, and from which their election to salvation is evident to the comfort of God’s people. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) “For which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day.” (II Tim. 1:12)
This assurance of salvation does not make men careless and profane as the Pelagians charge, but rather inspires men to a holy walk. “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”. (Phil. 2:12) It also awakens in them a longing for perfection, as we see in Paul’s seeking to attain perfection, for which Christ had apprehended him. (Phil. 3:12) And the elect are apprehended to the eternal glory of God in perfect felicity.
Reprobation is the decree, whereby God from eternity, in His sovereign good pleasure, foreordained in which rational creatures He shall glorify Himself by His avenging justice to their eternal punishment in hell.
The Lord did not only elect to eternal life, but also to eternal perdition. Reprobation is the opposite of election. “Therefore He hath mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth.” (Rom. 9:18)
Reprobation is also expressed negatively. Of the reprobate it is said, “Whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” (Rev. 13:8; 17:8)
Reprobation is not only in God’s foreknowledge, but it is God’s decree, in which He, for the glorification of His righteousness has determined the dreadful destination of those who shall receive the reward of unrighteousness. As election is a sovereign act, so is reprobation. In Scripture this is called God’s hating. “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? saith the LORD: yet I loved Jacob, and I hated Esau.” (Mal. 1:2,3) “As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated”. (Rom. 9:13)
It is also called an appointing to wrath. “For God hath not appointed us to wrath”. (I Thess. 5:9)
It is also called being appointed to disobedience. “Even to them which stumble at the word, being disobedient: whereunto also they were appointed.” (I Peter 2:8)
It is also called being fitted to destruction. “What if God, willing to show His wrath, and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction.” (Rom. 9:22)
It is also called being before ordained to condemnation. “For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men. .. .“ (Jude 4)
From the scriptures quoted it is very evident that reprobation is more than letting one lie in the state wherein he fell. It is a predetermination of the state of perdition, both of angels and of men, for God also determined to decree some of the angels to perdition, reserving them in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day. (Jude 6) The reprobate are appointed, ordained, and fitted to destruction.
In Article XVI of the Belgic Confession reprobation is spoken of in this way that God has shown Himself to be as He is, “that is to say merciful and just. … Just, in leaving others in the fall and perdition wherein they have involved themselves”.
These words, however, deal with the performance of God’s decree which occurs in time when man has cast himself into perdition. Thus God has shown Himself as He is. God shows this, however, by virtue of His “eternal and unchangeable counsel.” (See Art XVI) Also in the Canons of Dort reprobation is spoken of as the lot of the non-elect, (I, 6) whom God leaves in common misery. (I, 15) But then it is also emphatically stated that this happens to those whom God in His “sovereign, most just, irreprehensible and unchangeable good pleasure” left in their misery. Reprobation is therefore no more a passive decree, than election is; it is an active decree.
The Cause of reprobation does not lie in anything outside of God, not even in sin, but in God’s absolute sovereignty. “(For the children being not yet born, neither having done good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of Him that calleth;) It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. Therefore hath He mercy on whom He will have mercy, and whom He will He hardeneth. Nay but, 0 man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor?” (Rom. 9:11,12,18,20,21)
Righteous punishment certainly follows sin, but the reason why God determined to be glorified in exercising His righteousness does not lie in sin, but in God’s sovereignty. Sin is the meriting cause of punishment. The determining cause of the state of reprobation is the sovereignty of God. Thus reprobation is the independent decree of God from eternity, the sovereign, the decreeing God Himself. It is an act of the Father’s good pleasure. “Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in Thy sight”. (Matt. 11:26)
Sin, unbelief, hardness, and whatever else is mentioned as a reason for the righteous judgment of God, all follows the decree of God, and is not the cause of the decree. God is sovereign in election, but also in rejection. Both depend on nothing but God’s sovereign pleasure, and, being God’s decree they cannot be dependent upon some one or some thing outside of God. “The LORD hath made all things for Himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil.” (Prov. 16:4)
If sin were the cause of reprobation, then God would be dependent upon man’s actions in His decrees. Moreover, then all men would be reprobated, because all have sinned.
Not general. As election is not general, neither is reprobation. There are no general decrees. God’s decrees are limited, also the decree of predestination. It concerns certain people, known to God by name. Neither then is reprobation a general decree, in which God only would have determined to condemn the unbelievers and the wicked, without having predestinated the individual persons.
That is the doctrine of the Pelagians and Arminians. But such a general decree would not be a decree. Exercising God’s righteousness to the condemnation of the wicked needs no separate decree for it flows from His holy Essence, which is perfectly righteous. Thus the Scriptures say very emphatically that God did not decree to elect and reject in general, but that He hated Esau and loved Jacob. (Rom. 9:11,18,20-22)
Pharaoh is also a proof of this: “For the Scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might show My power in thee, and that My Name might be declared throughout all the earth.” (Rom. 9:17)
Judas went to his own place. (Acts 1:25) This place was determined by God. The reprobate, being persons known by God, are not written in the book of life (Rev. 13:8), are not Christ’s sheep (John 10:26), are appointed to disobedience (I Pet. 2:8), and were before ordained to condemnation. (Jude 4)
Reprobation took place to the glorification of God, especially of His sovereignty and righteousness. God has no desire in the death of sinners in itself. The Lord confirms it with an oath to those who by grace turn to Him. But God does have a desire for the glorification of His perfections. He is the Potter, Who according to His eternal good pleasure, makes from the same lump of clay one vessel to honor, and another unto dishonor. To that end God not only decided to create, but also to form the wicked unto the day of evil; allowing sin, and righteously condemning him who commits the sin. (Rom. 9:18) “For this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” (II Thess. 2:11,12)
Condemnation is to be distinguished from reprobation. Condemnation is an act of God’s righteousness, and reprobation is an act of His Sovereignty. Reprobation precedes sin, and does not happen because of it, but condemnation follows sin, and is its righteous reward.
The means. The decree of reprobation also determined the means by which it would be fulfilled. These means, however, are not the cause of reprobation, for they do not precede the decree, but follow upon it. These means include allowing the fall along with the resulting blindness: “And He said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not,” (Isa. 6:9); hardness: “Therefore they could not believe, because Esaias said again, He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them, (John 12:39,40); and disobedience: “Disobedient, whereunto they were also appointed.” (I Peter 2:8)
How clearly Scripture shows in all these places that blindness, hardness, and disobedience came according to the determinate counsel of God. Unless God glorifies His grace in man’s heart, he hardens himself in sin. Although the guilt of that hardening lies with man, nevertheless, the Divine reprobation is executed by it. Scripture then also speaks in the texts quoted above in both a positive manner of blinding and hardening, and in a negative manner, as of not enlightening, not showing mercy, and not giving grace. The reprobate are not savingly called (Matt. 20:16); their sins are not forgiven (John 20:23); faith is not given them (Acts 13:46). This is not to be understood in such a sense as if God would work the blinding and hardening Himself, nor as if He would merely allow sin and then wait to see what man would omit or commit, but according to His sovereign will He gives the reprobate over to his own blindness and hardness, and to the deception of Satan. (Romans 9:7-18; I Pet. 2:8) Thus man works out his own judgment to which he was appointed. The hardening in unbelief and the impenitence and withholding of saving grace belong to the means God has determined to use in performing His reprobation. (Jude 4) “I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Thy sight.” (Matt. 11:26,27)
In these words Christ thanks His Father for election and rejection. “Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand”. (Matt. 13:13) It is remarkable that the Lord does not say “so that” but “because” seeing they see not. Therefore He spoke in parables which He explained only to His disciples. John 8:47 and 10:26 mean the same thing: “He that is of God heareth God’s words: ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God.” “But ye believe not, because ye are not of My sheep as I said unto you.”
The means mentioned both in a positive and negative manner lie under the direct determination and ruling of God’s will and serve to perform His reprobation. It is certain that the reprobate are disobedient and shall not see life (John 3:36), because reprobation is unchangeable. The number of reprobates is determined by God as well as their persons. (Rom. 9:11,12) Indeed Scripture teaches us that reprobation comprehends the most people. “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” (Matt. 7:13,14) “For many be called, but few chosen.” (Matt. 20:16)
All those who deny man’s state of death, oppose this doctrine of reprobation as taught by the Scripture. We meet the same opposition here that we encountered against the doctrine of election. If they still speak of reprobation, they mean only the determination of the state of man, but will have nothing to do with the reprobation of persons, unless a man having died, it was proved that he did not want to believe. Or, as the Arminians, Romanists, Lutherans, and many Anabaptists teach, a conditional reprobation of persons. This would follow only after proved perseverance in hardness. God’s decree would thus be conditional, and dependent upon the acts of man. A more absurd statement is unthinkable.
Some object that the absolutely personal reprobation would compel men to sin. This accusation is very absurd, for reprobation is an immanent work in God, and hence does not necessitate man to commit sin. On the contrary, man sins willingly and voluntarily, following his evil desires against his duty and better knowledge, and he hardens himself in spite of many callings to repentance.
On that ground the second accusation also falls away, that it makes God to be an author of sin. We have already opposed that attack. God does not work sin; He grants rational creatures all the necessary gifts to resist sin. Angels and men fell according to the determined counsel of God, but not because God worked sin. The creature did so himself, and that without compulsion, entirely voluntarily.
Others, opposing reprobation, think it is unjust. God has concluded all under sin. Thus man, they say, must sin, and therefore the sentence to perdition is unjust.
To this we respond:
- reprobation does not compel men to sin; but righteous judgment follows his voluntary action: and
- reprobation is a decree of God, immanent in the Essence of God, and is an act of sovereignty, not of justice. The exercise of justice follows the sin, and therefore the condemnation is just.
The righteous sentence over sin condemns it, but reprobation does not. Yet the decree of God determined this sentence, therefore the reprobates are called vessels of wrath fitted for destruction. (Rom. 9:22)
Finally, the opposers of reprobation reject the sovereignty of God. According to these erring spirits it is improper that God should destine man to perdition to glorify His attributes, without viewing him as created and fallen, laying the cause in the decree, the good pleasure of God. The apostle shuts the mouths of those who rebel against God by saying, “Nay but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God?” (Rom. 9:20,21)
Neither does the decree of reprobation conflict with the earnest and sincere invitation of salvation to sinners, as it takes place in preaching the Gospel. It is an abominable slander to accuse God of hypocrisy. The invitation of God in the Gospel is true, even though God decrees to withdraw the grace of repentance from the reprobate, to the giving of which He was not obliged. Thus the ministration of the Gospel must serve to the greater glory of the righteousness of God in those that harden themselves, and God is also thereby glorified in those that shall be lost, as well as in those that shall be saved. (II Cor. 2:15,16)
Since reprobation flows from the sovereignty of God, man is considered as not yet created, and not yet fallen. We must remember this, especially against the Arminians, concerning little children. The Arminians exclude children entirely from reprobation when they hold only a reprobation for those who misuse their so-called free will. The Semi-Pelagians who only speak of the foreknowledge and not of the decree of God in reference to foreordination, imagine a kind of inbetween stage for the children in which only a punishment of deprivation is given them. God’s Word, however, teaches us a reprobation out of God’s absolute sovereignty, and not because of the misuse of a free will which we do not have.
Moreover, the apostle says emphatically that election and rejection take place before the children have done anything good or evil (Rom. 9:11) since also the children are included in the fall of Adam (Ps. 51:5) and are therefore subject to the judgment of death. (Rom. 5:14)
The doctrine of reprobation gives no one an excuse to sin, any more than that of election does. One day God shall judge every man according to his sins, and the mouth of the mocker will be stopped for ever.
On the other hand, let not the doctrine of reprobation discourage us, but lead us to adore the absolute sovereignty of God. For man it is hidden which persons God has decreed to reprobation, but, although there is no hope for those who die in their impenitence, nevertheless, it has pleased God to give examples in His Word of stubborn and great sinners who came to repentance, such as Manasseh and Paul; yea, of those who at the end of their life were plucked as a brand out of the fire, as the thief on the cross. (Luke 23:42,43) At the eleventh hour workers were still hired in the vineyard, which received the full wages of grace. (Matt. 20:9) So Scripture proclaims to us the riches of the grace of God in Christ, which is “abundantly sufficient to expiate the sins of the whole world,” (Canons of Dort, II, 3) “although the quickening and saving efficacy of the most precious death of His Son should extend to all the elect, for this was the sovereign counsel and most gracious will and purpose of God the Father” (Canons of Dort 11,8). “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” (Isa. 1:18) “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” (I Timothy 1:15)
May the proclamation of the greatness of the grace of God preserve each of us from despairing of the possibility of being saved, since we, as far as our state and condition are concerned, though we may be the chief of sinners, are still living in the acceptable time, in the day of salvation.
The chapter we have just finished is of such great importance that we must continually remind each other of it that we may not give up even the smallest part of the truth. Daniel Tilenus is certainly a terrible example of those who err in this matter. He was the famous theologian for whose safety in the dispute between him and the Parisian minister Dumoulin, not only the English King James I, but also the professors and ministers tried their best and wrote a letter to the great French church assembly, on April 5, 1614. This Tilenus came to such an extreme mockery of the Reformed doctrine that in his “refutation of the Canons of Dort” he dared to write that if in hell a council of evil spirits came together to ask advice of their fellow angels as to what fabrication could best inspire and draw out the most hatred of man against God, no one could imagine or invent anything better suited to this purpose than the decree of predestination.
Tilenus is indeed a proof of the fact that those who set their feet on the way to Pelagianism, and to whom the devil has given his poison, will never be reclaimed or brought back unless God does wonders, as Comrie rightly remarks when relating these matters.
How necessary it is then for everyone to preserve the pure doctrine of God’s Word so richly developed by the Reformers, and particularly that of predestination. It elevates God’s sovereignty to the highest and is a source of comfort for all who fear the Lord causing them to boast by faith in the unshakable foundation of salvation, which lies firm in God from eternity. The devil and unbelief may fight against grace received in the soul, but no enemy can ever touch the foundations of salvation which God has prepared for those who fear Him. The firm foundation of God stands sure, having this seal: “The Lord knoweth them that are His.” (II Tim. 2:19)
This article is taken from Reformed Dogmatics: A Systematic Treatment of Reformed Doctrine by Rev. G. H. Kersten, Volume I, pp. 130-135. It was presented for publication by the Netherlands Reformed book and Publishing Committee and printed by (Wm. B. Eerdmans: Grand Rapids, MI, 1980)