"Unity without verity is no better than conspiracy." - John Trapp

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Election: Predestination and Reprobation

Aside from some general changes to make it look better on the web, the following is largely untouched from it's original content ten years ago. That's probably because it was something I had thought about and studied a lot prior to writing the paper, therefore my views were pretty well settled on this subject when the paper was written.

The discussion on the decrees (in the previous post) touched on the Biblical evidence for predestination, but briefly that evidence will be reviewed, especially with a view of what it means to say that predestination is "double" - that some are predestined to Hell. One key verse is Romans 8:29, which states "For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren." This verse is key for two reasons. First, that predestination is established by this verse, and secondly, that the emphasis is on election to life, not the predestination of some to Hell. The latter will be dealt with here first.

To be sure, reprobation is taught in Scripture. The verse from Matthew 26:24, where judgment is pronounced on Judas as the foreordained betrayer of Christ, is the primary New Testament reference. Paul uses Pharaoh as the Old Testament example, when in Romans 9:17 he quotes Exodus 9:16, writing, "For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, 'For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.'" [Briefly, note that Paul refers to Scripture where we would expect to see God, indicating again the Bible’s authority as the Word of God.] This verse leads to Paul’s grand statement of God’s sovereignty in the eternal destiny of men (Romans 9:18): "So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills."

This statement leads Paul where we have to go, because the objection, in today’s terms, is “that's not fair.” In Paul’s day, the wording was, "Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?" (Romans 9:19) Paul responds to this objection two ways. First, he points us back to God’s character, especially that He is our creator and judge.

Romans 9:20-21

20 But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, "Why have you made me like this?" 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honored use and another for dishonorable use?

This response to the questioning of God’s character has a parallel in the Old Testament, where for several chapters, Job and his “friends” have been discussing why God has allowed/caused the catastrophes which have occurred in Job’s life. At the end of the book, God responds to Job’s cries:

Job 38:1-5 "Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind and said,

2 'Who is this that darkens counsel

By words without knowledge?

3 'Now gird up your loins like a man,

And I will ask you, and you instruct Me!

4 'Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?

Tell Me, if you have understanding,

5 'Who set its measurements, since you know?

Or who stretched the line on it?'"


God goes on in Job 38-41 to express His wisdom and power. Those troubled by God’s sovereignty would do well to study and reflect on theses chapters. Especially noteworthy for us are the two replies of Job, which must be our replies when we come to question God:

Job 40:3-5 "Then Job answered the Lord and said,

4 'Behold, I am insignificant; what can I reply to Thee?

I lay my hand on my mouth.

5 'Once I have spoken, and I will not answer;

Even twice, and I will add no more.'"


Job 42:1-6 "Then Job answered the Lord, and said,

2 'I know that Thou canst do all things,

And that no purpose of Thine can be thwarted.

3 '"Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?'

Therefore I have declared that which I did not understand,

Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.

4 '"Hear, now, and I will speak;

I will ask Thee, and do Thou instruct me."

5 'I have heard of Thee by the hearing of the ear;

But now my eye sees Thee;

6 'Therefore I retract,

And I repent in dust and ashes.'"


When all is said, we will have exhausted our wisdom and not begun to scratch the surface of reconciling God’s sovereignty and His eternal decrees, including reprobation, with the responsibility and free choice of man. Dr. Curt Daniel quotes J. I. Packer (The History and Theology of Calvinism, Lesson 31 “Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility, 10c), "Our wisdom is to maintain with equal emphasis both the apparently conflicting truths in each case, to hold them together in the relation in which the Bible itself sets them, and to recognize that here is a mystery which we cannot expect to solve in this world." Therefore, we are left to repent with Job when we attribute wrong doing to God, and to praise Him for His majesty and goodness toward those He has chosen for fellowship with Himself. If reprobation does not make us cling to God more, and make us more thankful for our own election, we have not rightly understood it.

But the other thing that is clear from Scripture is that God’s emphasis is on election to life, not reprobation. Bavinck states (Doctrine of God, pp.397), "it is entirely true on the one hand that reprobation should be subsumed under predestination, nevertheless, the former is not in the same manner and in the same sense included in the divine decree as is election." The key difference is that faith is not what causes election, but is a result of it (as will be shown), but sin is that which merits reprobation. Again, Bavinck writes (Ibid., pp.398), "Sin cannot have been the 'efficient and moving cause' of the decree of reprobation - for it followed the eternal decree in time, and, if it had been the cause, all men would needs have been reprobated - but it was indeed 'its sufficient cause' and definitely 'the meriting cause' of eternal punishment."

What must not be assumed is that God rejoices in reprobation. Rejoicing occurs in heaven when a lost sheep is found, but nowhere are we told that God rejoices in condemning sinners to Hell. What Romans 9:22 ("What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?") tells us is that God is willing to reveal Himself, even in wrath. This willingness does not imply rejoicing. (Bavinck, pp. 401):

"But God takes delight in the work he accomplishes by means of election. In that work he sees his own virtues reflected as in a mirror. But that which God effects according to the decree of reprobation is not in and by itself an object of his rejoicing. Sin is not a good in itself. But it becomes a good when by the omnipotent God it is rendered subservient to his glory, however much sin in itself endeavors to thwart God’s glory."


Another way of looking at this that has been helpful to me is that God did not separate two innocent groups of humanity, one for election and the other for reprobation. Instead, He actively chose to save a portion (the elect) from the sinful mass of humanity, all of whom were deserving of the Lord's righteous wrath. The remainder were left in their sin, under judgment. For those who are interested in even deeper theological discussions, yes, that makes me an infralapsarian.

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