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The Place of Reprobation in the Preaching of the Gospel by Herman C. Hoeksema

By April 9, 2011June 24th, 2019Preaching, Reprobation

The subject of this pamphlet is not an easy one, but it is of great importance for those who love the Reformed truth. A Reformed person thinks and lives theologically. For him it is of greatest importance to know His God as He has revealed Himself in His works and Word. He understands perfectly that he cannot comprehend God, because God is infinite, His Being is unfathomable, and His works always fill us with adoring wonder. But still a Reformed man desires to know more and more about his God, and also to comprehend that which God has revealed of Himself.

God is One. There must therefore be unity in His revelation, unity of thought and purpose in all His works. And therefore a child of God, especially a Reformed child of God, cannot rest until he has learned to see and understand this unity of thought and purpose. It is from this point of view that we wish to consider the place of reprobation in the preaching of the Gospel.

We proceed, of course, in the discussion of this subject from the assumption that we are speaking to Reformed people. We shall not therefore speak now about election or reprobation as such. In fact, we shall not even make an attempt to defend the contention that reprobation should have a place in the preaching of the Gospel. We assume this. Rather, we shall attempt to trace the unity of God’s works, and then place ourselves before this question: What is the place of reprobation in that unity?

We have said that we will consider the place of reprobation in the preaching of the Gospel. If reprobation must be preached, what is its place? How must it be presented? What is its relation to election and to the whole of truth; and with what emphasis must it be presented? It is obvious that in the preaching or instruction of the truth the various aspects of the truth must be placed in their proper light and in their relation to one another. If I should describe a masterpiece of an artist, and if I should attempt to describe the individual parts which are on the canvas without relating them to the whole, that masterpiece would be ruined by my description. Or if I should attempt to portray my impression of the whole and lay so much stress on the background that the background becomes the foreground, I do not do justice to the work of the artist. So it is also in respect to the work of salvation. One can very well, on occasion, preach on election, and later on reprobation, without setting forth these truths correctly, simply because he has not preached them in their mutual relation and in connection with the entire truth of Scripture.

The question is, therefore, What is the place of reprobation in the preaching of the Gospel? It lies in the nature of the case, however, that this question is inseparably connected with another, namely, What is the proper place of reprobation in the entire body of truth? Both election and reprobation are parts of predestination; and this again is part of the counsel of God in the full sense of the word as it pertains to all things. In order therefore to determine the place of reprobation in the works of God and in the preaching of the gospel, we must first of all review the whole plan of God concerning all things. Secondly, we must answer the question how predestination appears in this full counsel. And, finally, we must determine the relation in which reprobation stands to election, as far as this is possible in the light of Scripture.

We shall discuss all these things as we deal with: The Place of Reprobation in the Preaching of the Gospel.

  1. God’s Decree and Election
  2. Election with Reprobation
  3. Reprobation in the Preaching

God’s Decree and Election

The question that confronts us is: What is the relation of election to God’s decree concerning all things? What is the place of election in the entirety of the counsel of God? To be able to ascertain this, we must necessarily consider the counsel of God in general, be it only in passing. God’s counsel in this broad sense is the eternal thought and will of God concerning all created things, man and angels, moon and stars, the animate and the inanimate creation.

This decree or this counsel of God is eternal, since there was never a beginning of the thoughts of God in regard to creation. Those thoughts are as eternal as God Himself. And that counsel of God is all inclusive. From before the foundation of the world, all things were with Him in His divine thoughts, not only as He made them in the beginning, but also as they should develop throughout history. God has from before the foundation of the world decreed in His eternal counsel how things will be eternally. He determined the end of all things from the beginning. God determined how He would create all things in the beginning with a view to the consummation of all things. Creation is planned with a view to re-creation, generation to regeneration, the beginning with a view to the end. Not only this, but with a view to that end God the Lord planned the course of events, so that all in its mutual working and development must work together to attain His eternal purpose. Let us never forget that God’s works are a unity, and that every creature is organically related to every other creature. Everything is planned with a view to everything else. God has therefore so determined everything in His counsel that the end of all things must be the realization of that which He had purposed in Himself.

Therefore nothing can be excluded from this counsel. Rain and drought, fruitful and unfruitful years, health and sickness, war and peace, yea, the animals of the field and the sparrows of the housetops must serve that purpose and end which God has determined in Himself. In this connection notice that this also includes the evil things: sin, pain, death, and all that is related to them. Never may we conceive of God’s counsel as if it allows for adjustments, or for events not included in it. On the contrary, God decided the end, and He sovereignly determined the way and the means that should lead to that end, sin and death included.

Already at this point in our discussion we may establish that God’s goal, which He determined in Himself, is that all the works of His hands must show forth His praise to the fullest extent, and must witness of the magnificence of His name. The Lord has indeed made all things for His own sake, even the wicked unto the day of evil (Prov. 16:4); for He is God and He alone, and He does all His good pleasure.

But now the question arises: How did God conceive of this end of all things to which all things in His counsel are directed? What will that unity of all things be, that consummation of all things, through which God’s name will be most fully glorified and His virtues most gloriously revealed? Note that the question should be put in this way. The question is frequently asked: In what manner is God glorified in the individual works of His hands? But not enough attention is given to the relation of these works one to another.

Let us take again the example of a work of art. Naturally, I can stand in front of a beautiful building and focus my attention on the individual parts of the building. I can note the beautiful stones, the colored windows, the lofty vaults, the pointed arches, and whatever else there may be. If one architect has planned it all, then I can, in pointing out the separate parts, praise the ability of the architect. This also can be done with the works of God. This is in fact the method that is usually employed.

Now it is true that God is glorified in the wonderful, omnipotent work which He has established in the beginning. The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament showeth forth His handiwork, and the entire creation speaks of His eternal power and godhead. With wisdom the Lord hath made it all. So, too, I can speak of the work of salvation, and, as subdivisions of this, speak separately of His gracious election and of His just reprobation. Thus I can praise God for the revelation of His sovereign love in election, and at the same time say that in reprobation He reveals His justice and wrath as well as His great power.

Yet, you immediately feel that we may not leave it at that. There was in that building, if the architect really was capable, one principal idea, and, with a view to that, all the other parts are determined. If I attend only to the parts, the result is twofold. In the first place, I have not grasped the principal idea of the whole, in which the marvelous realization of the idea is brought out. Secondly, I have not done justice to the parts, for the simple reason that I have not shown their place and purpose in relation to the whole. Thus it is with God’s works. God is one. His work is one. One magnificent idea governs all. If I wish, therefore, to glorify God in His work, I must attend not only to the parts, but first to the whole, and then show how each part is related to that whole.

In regard to reprobation, for example, I can say that God sovereignly predestined some to destruction in order to glorify Himself; but if I say no more, I will have presented God as a tyrant who destroys creatures for the sole purpose of glorifying Himself. And one will say to himself: ‘This is a hard saying, who can hear it?’ O, surely, God is sovereign; and He does with His own what He wills and no one can say, ‘What doest thou?’ But that does not take away the thought that repeatedly arises in our hearts, Why has the all-wise God done this? Therefore we must place ourselves before the question: What is the goal, the consummation? What is the outcome? What has God determined in Himself? What is the end of all the works of His hands?

Then we must take as our starting point what we read in Ephesians 1:9, 10: ‘Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself: that in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him.’

We cannot now give a complete explanation of this beautiful and comprehensive passage. Let it suffice that we treat the chief teachings of the text in as far as this is necessary for the treatment of our subject. First of all, it is clear that the apostle here reveals to us what God the Lord has purposed in Himself in His counsel with respect to the eternal purpose of all His works. There can be no doubt that the text deals with the eternal good pleasure of God. He has purposed in Himself from before the foundation of the world how things should be in their consummation. Hardly can it be denied that the apostle speaks of all things, the whole creation, the fullness of all that God has made. He says emphatically all things, both those in heaven and those on earth. I know that this has been explained as if it referred to the militant and triumphant church. Yet this conflicts with the plain meaning of the word. Here the discussion is in regard to all things. We may thus take this to mean: What has God, from before the foundation of the world, determined in Himself with respect to this present creation? What shall its consummation be?

We answer first of all that, according to the text, the entire creation shall be an intimately related and harmonious unity. Indeed all the creatures which are in heaven and on the earth shall be brought together under one head, so that all creation shall form a perfect unity. This was not the case in the beginning. There was then not one head of the entire creation. There was an earthly and a heavenly creation. Certainly, the earthly creation was united under its earthly head. Adam was king and head. But this kingship did not include the things which are in heaven; for Adam, as he stood in the first paradise, was made a little lower than the angels. Even this kingship, however, was devastated by sin. Adam fell. He broke the covenant, separating himself along with the earthly creation from the God of the covenant. The creatures now are mutually parted and separated. It is now man against man, people against people, plant against plant, animal against animal. The animal world is mutually divided, as well as separated from man. The harmony in the earthly creation is broken. Some such division also took place in heaven amongst the angels of God. But this passage of the apostle teaches us that it was God’s purpose from before the foundation of the world to unite all things again into a higher and all-inclusive unity, both the things in heaven and the things on earth.

In the second place, we answer, in the light of the text, that God had determined in Himself so to unite all things that they are governed by Christ as King. Christ must become the Head of the new creation. Adam may not be that head. This includes that the ruling principle of the new creation shall be that Christ is Lord over all. All creation has its harmonious unity in Him. As far as Christ is exalted above Adam, so far will the future creation shine forth in blazing glory above the present creation. This not only means that all creatures shall be gathered together and united in perfect unity under the one head, Christ, but also that creation shall then be most intimately united with God. For, indeed, Christ is Immanuel, God with us, the Word that became flesh. In Him are the divine and human natures, Creator and creature in closest union, one with the other. In Christ, God joins Himself most intimately with us through the bond of the covenant. And in Christ God’s tabernacle will be spread over us; and through us all things will be included in this tabernacle of God. The glorified creation shall eternally lie close to God’s heart in Christ Jesus.

Thus considered, the counsel of predestination (more specifically, election, with its necessary complement, reprobation) is the heart of God’s decree. This counsel of predestination determines the place which God’s rational creatures, both angels and men, shall assume in this eternal unity of all things. And amongst the rational creatures, man who was made in the image of God, and whose nature was assumed by Christ, occupies the chief place. When all the works of God shall have reached their consummation, then man, in Christ Jesus, will be in closest communion and live in most intimate fellowship with God. For this reason it is impossible to place the decree of predestination on the same line with the decree of providence. Both form a unity, but so that predestination assumes the pivotal place around which all the rest revolves, and in which all finds its unity, according to the all-wise counsel of God. And this unity is formed in such a way that the decree of election assumes the chief place in predestination, not only in the sense that election is the positive side and reprobation the negative side, but also thus that reprobation serves election.

We shall enlarge upon this presently. However, this can now already be said, that since it was God’s determination in the fulness of time to unite and to gather all things in Christ Jesus, it stands to reason that God’s main concern is not with that which falls eternally outside of that glorified creation. When one constructs a building, his chief concern is not the stones which never find a place in the completed structure, even though they were formed as stones. Thus it is in God’s counsel. Election is and remains the main purpose, to which reprobation is subordinate, whatever purpose it may serve.

So conceived, election is that part of God’s counsel in which He, from before the foundation of the world, has determined which individuals will have a glorious place in the final unity of all things. Election may be defined as God’s appointment of individuals to the glory of the new and everlasting creation. Election is indeed discriminating. It implies that God has chosen some in distinction from others. Nevertheless it is chiefly predestination. And, therefore, election in this connection is to be defined as that decree of God by which He sovereignly and freely, out of pure grace, without respect to merits, chose to give some a place with Christ in eternal glory. The primary purpose is the glorification of God. The motive is deepest love. He desired to glorify His children with a glory which they could never have attained in the first Adam.

Moreover, election is personal. God has known His own by name from eternity. But election is to be thought of organically. For, although election deals with individuals and is personal, yet it is also true that the elect form a unity in Christ, a glorious inheritance of God in which each has his own place. The elect constitute the body of Christ, in which each member is chosen to a certain personal destination, to his own place in the body

Election and Reprobation

Now we are prepared to give an answer to the question, What is the place of reprobation in that scheme? God has reprobated as well as chosen. Taken by itself, reprobation is the decree of God in which He has determined, as sovereignly as in election, that some individuals should not enter eternal glory, but are destined for destruction. Thus it should be expressed. I realize it seems milder to say that God decided to leave others in their sins and ruin. This is the way it is formulated in our Canons, in which the Synod of Dordt adopted the infra standpoint, contrary to the wishes and protestations of Gomarus.

Yet, as a matter of fact, this is not a milder way of expressing it. We may close our eyes to the problem and refuse to seek an answer, but the problem remains. The question inevitably arises, How did these people fall into the sin in which God permitted them to lie? Another question also arises, Why did God leave them in this sin and misery when He could have saved them? I fully realize that all questions cannot possibly be answered. Nevertheless, it is also true that by closing our eyes to the problems that arise we fail to find a solution.

Besides, Scripture certainly teaches more. The Potter does with the clay as He pleases, and no one can deny Him the right to form of one lump of clay a vessel unto honor and of another a vessel unto dishonor. Surely, here we are taught more than that God permits something to lie where it has fallen. The vessels unto dishonor are also made by Him in accordance with His appointment. Therefore, we would rather say that reprobation is that decree of God by which He sovereignly destined some to destruction. For, certainly, the condemnation shall be on the basis of the sin and guilt of the reprobate, but never as if this reprobation rests on foreseen sin. Reprobation, even as election, is entirely, sovereignly free.

At present, however, we are not so much concerned about reprobation as such, but rather about its relation to election. The question is, What is the relation of the former to the latter? Or rather, the more weighty question, Why did God reprobate? You say: To the glorification of His name. Correct. We agree. God the Lord has wrought all things for His own sake, even the wicked to the day of evil. We grant that. But the question arises: Is God the Lord glorified to a greater extent by having reprobated some, rather than if He had saved all? Granted that the damnation of the reprobate glorifies Him eternally, would His honor not have been greater if He had saved all? Again you say, No, because then His righteous indignation would never have been revealed. But is that true? We agree, of course, that in the destruction of the reprobate God reveals His righteous anger and is thereby glorified. Was that anger not sufficiently revealed in the suffering of Christ?

Every time the same question confronts us: Why has God reprobated some? To find an answer to this we must place ourselves before the question: What is the relation of election to reprobation? Do these form a dualism? Then there is dualism in God also; then God is a God of highest love, and at the same time of deepest hatred. This surely is impossible. God does not desire the destruction of the reprobate in the same way in which He delights in the salvation and glory of His chosen people. Therefore we maintain that Scripture gives the following in answer to this very important question: Reprobation exists in order that election may be realized; reprobation is necessary to bring the chosen to the glory which God in His infinite love has appointed for them.

God loved His people with an infinite love. In His great love He determined to lead them to the glory He had appointed for them in Christ. If He determined to attain this greatest glory and lead the elect into it, it was necessary for Him, reverently speaking, to reprobate some. Not because all could not find a place in that glory, for then the question would arise, Why did God decree to create more people than could assume a place in the organism of the body of Christ? But because those who are presently to be damned must for a time serve the salvation of the elect, be it in an antithetical manner. In this sense, reprobation is a divine necessity. In this sense, the reprobate exist for the sake of the elect. They are in a certain sense the price, the ransom, which God pays for the higher glory of His children.

Of course, you will ask if we can prove this. We think we can. In the first place, we wish to refer you to the fact that this idea is not strange to God’s general revelation in nature and in history. You find it proved in the life of the nations and of people in particular. On many monuments erected in honor of our soldiers who lost their lives on the battlefield, you may read the inscription, ‘They gave their lives that we might live.’ Here is a figure of election and reprobation as we are now considering it. How often it occurs that thousands lose their lives on the battlefield in order that others may live. They do not merely give their lives, but it is required of them. They were reprobated that the nation might live.

It is no different in the lives of individuals, or individual persons and animals. The mother gives life to her child, not infrequently at the expense of her own. It is virtually always true that one generation lives and dies to make room for the next. There are species of animals in which the male dies after mating. The male is cast off (reprobated) to give life to the young.

According to the Scriptures, it is no different in the plant kingdom. When a farmer sows seed in his field, he sows much more than he needs. When the seed falls into the earth and dies, there appear not only the kernels of wheat, for which the seed was planted, but also the stem, the straw, and even the chaff. Without the stem and the chaff the grain could never have germinated and ripened. The stem and the chaff serve the grain, the seed. Yet both will presently be burned by fire in order that the grain may be gathered into the barn. Here also we find election and reprobation, and in such a way that the latter serves the former, and is necessary to it.

Yet this is not all. Not only do you find a figure of this truth in the general revelation of God, but it is also literally proved in Scripture, both in various texts and in the historical accounts. The Lord declares in Isaiah 43:4 to Israel, ‘Since thou wast precious in my sight, thou hast been honourable, and I have loved thee: therefore will I give men for thee, and people for thy life.’ It is true that this passage refers to that which the Lord did for Israel in the past. But it is also true that this passage refers to the eternal counsel of God’s good pleasure. For indeed God has loved His people from eternity. In His counsel they are precious in His eyes. Thus the text refers to the eternal love of God. In that eternal love He has desired to glorify and magnify His people, and to lead them to the highest possible glory in His eternal inheritance. The text says that, in order to accomplish this, God has given other people in the place of His chosen people. Because He loved His people, those others had to pay for Israel’s salvation with their own lives. Israel’s history proves this time and time again. Pharaoh and his host perish. They must serve Israel temporarily, but God does not hesitate to give people for the life of His people. When Israel enters Canaan, people are again given in the place of Israel. This is effectuated by the sins of these people. They have filled the measure of iniquity at the time when Israel must enter into the rest and are destroyed to make room for Israel. So it is throughout the history of Israel. Babylon also serves a purpose, namely, to chastise Jerusalem. Yet, hereby it makes itself ripe for judgment. And when it has served to realize God’s counsel, Babylon is destroyed.

Thus it is literally presented in Proverbs 11:8: ‘The righteous is delivered out of trouble and the wicked cometh in his stead.’ The idea here is that the ungodly serve to deliver the righteous out of trouble, to glorify them. And having done so they perish for their sins. Still stronger is the language of Proverbs 21:18: ‘The wicked shall be a ransom for the righteous, and the transgressor for the upright.’ Here again we have the idea that God gives the wicked as a ransom, which He pays to glorify the righteous.

Naturally, this does not detract from the other truth that in reprobation God also reveals His righteousness, and is glorified in revealing His holy name. Indeed, these reprobate do not serve the salvation of the elect willingly, but as godless, and in spite of themselves. For this reason, they become guilty in serving this purpose, and are worthy of condemnation. Thus, in serving God’s purpose they become ripe for destruction. Just as chaff ripens for destruction while it serves the grain, so the godless become ripe for perdition while they serve the elect.

More evident this is in the case of our Savior Himself. Surely for the glorification of the elect, the blood of the Savior must flow. But if this blood is to flow, there must be a wicked and reprobate world to shed it. There must be a Judas who betrays Him; there must be a Sanhedrin that condemns Him; there must be a mighty and godless Roman power that finally brings Him to the cross. In all this, the reprobate serve for the glorification of the elect. Without that ungodly world, the cross cannot be imagined. But the situation is also thus that the world, in crucifying the Savior, through which it serves for the glorification of the elect, becomes ripe for destruction.

As it was then, so it is now. So it will be to the end of the world. And when the end shall come, the ungodly shall be righteously condemned and damned, in sin having served God’s counsel. The elect shall be eternally glorified with the Savior in the inheritance of the saints. Thus we conclude that in the unity of God’s plan, reprobation necessarily serves election. God’s love toward His people reigns supreme in His counsel. To reveal and to realize this love fully He brings into existence people who must finally be damned. Reprobation is the necessary antithetical counterpart of election.

Reprobation in the Preaching

On this basis we can determine the place of reprobation in the preaching of the Gospel, and, for that matter, its place in every presentation of the truth. Surely reprobation must be preached. This follows from the very fact that God has revealed it, and the complete counsel of God must certainly be preached. We can understand this necessity. Without the preaching of reprobation, not only can election, its counterpart, not be preached, but neither can justice be done to God’s electing love. God’s great love must always be our chief concern. That love is manifested in this that He has given His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life. However, this becomes still more glorious if we understand that to realize this love, God has given people in the stead of His people, and given the wicked as a ransom for the righteous.

Secondly, it surely must become evident in the preaching that God is sovereign, also when a part which He first formed falls away. When we see a farmer pull out the little plants which he had previously planted, it seems sad and foolish to us, until we understand that this has its purpose. So too it is with the work of God. Unless we consider the matter from God’s viewpoint, and unless we are enlightened by His wise counsel, the world’s history seems a great pity, a great misery. For, although God is the ultimate Victor and will finally glorify His people, the fact remains that many creatures which He had first formed are eternally lost through the wiles of the devil and the powers of death and sin. Not so, if we present reprobation in the proper light. Then God remains sovereign. There is then no accident. Whatever God does is well done, for He does all things in wisdom.

We must not surrender an inch of ground to the idea that God wills to save all, some of which are nevertheless lost. God’s counsel shall stand, and He shall remain sovereign – sovereign in regard to eternal life, and at the same time sovereign in regard to eternal perdition. Therefore reprobation must be preached; for God must remain sovereign even over the kingdom of darkness. Reprobation must be preached to the congregation from the viewpoint of election. The believers must understand that salvation is not of him that runneth, nor of him that willeth, but of God that sheweth mercy. According to God’s good pleasure they have received a place in the consummation of all things. This means so much more to us when we understand that God could also sovereignly have reprobated us. There can be no question that reprobation should be preached, if one wishes to divide the Word of truth properly.

Thus, it has become evident how reprobation should be preached, and what place it should be given in the preaching of the gospel. In the first place, it has become evident that we must not have sermonettes devoted to reprobation. This is also true of election. This is true of every aspect of the truth. He who occasionally preaches only on election, without relating it whatsoever to reprobation, is not preaching election. This is still more true of reprobation, which is the antithetical counterpart of election. It belongs with election. It can be understood only in the light of election. It must accordingly be presented in its relation to election.

It is also evident that, when preaching on election and reprobation, we must not place them dualistically over against each other. They are not on the same level. They are not corresponding halves of the same thing, but together they form a unity. Reprobation should always be presented as subordinate to election, as serving the latter according to God’s counsel. From this it follows that reprobation should not be preached with a certain delight in the doctrine. He who is forever preaching reprobation shows not only that he is harsh and cruel, but also that he has not understood the work of the Lord God. God’s love remains the central thought. He has chosen in His eternal love; and, for the sake of this love, He has also reprobated. Thus all God’s work becomes a beautiful organic unity. In this way He is and remains God, and He alone. Thus, at the conclusion of all this, we exclaim in adoration with the apostle, ‘Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God; for of him and through him and to him are all things! To him be glory forever!’

God will presently make all things new. Then He will fully reveal His everlasting and glorious Kingdom to all His children. Then the kingdom of Christ, including His chosen church, will be inseparably united with God. And it will appear that this divine and beautiful work is so marvelous and so glorious that not only was it doubly worth all the suffering of this present time, but also it is costly enough to give people as a ransom for it. The glory of the Lord shall, through Jesus Christ, shine forth with heavenly radiance over all the works of His hands, forever!

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